This review originally appeared in the January/February 2007 issue of The Sleuth. To subscribe to The Sleuth, please visit this page.
Review of The Secret in the Old Attic: A Nancy Drew Mystery Play for Girls
by Jennifer White
The Dramatic Publishing Company of Chicago published a dramatization of The Secret in the Old Attic in 1950. The dramatization was written by Anne Coulter Martens and consists of 54 pages of dialogue. The copyright page gives credit to Carolyn Keene and Grosset and Dunlap.
The entire play is set in the attic of the March home, and the action takes place in just one evening, a little more than two hours. The play is in three acts and is designed to be performed by nine women or girls.
The characters and costumes are described as follows:
NANCY: She is a charming, level-headed girl of seventeen, capable and courageous. She wears an attractive fall suit and a shoulderstrap bag.
BESS: Bess is attractive, steady, and a little serious, but with a quick sense of humor. She is about seventeen. She wears sports clothes suitable for fall.
GEORGIE: She is Bess's age, light-hearted, gay, and giggly. She, too, wears sports clothes.
MRS. MARCH: She is a pretty little old lady in her sixties, firm of step and voice. She wears a simple fall dress.
SUSAN: Susan is a sweet, affectionate girl of fifteen. She wears a bright sweater and skirt.
EFFIE: Effie is seventeen, good-natured, but very excitable, and almost afraid of her own shadow. She wears a neat little house dress and a perky apron.
MRS. LALLY: She is a plump woman of about fifty, and a bit affected. She dresses quite fashionably, but in good taste.
DIANE: Diane is seventeen, very pretty, and a chatterbox. She wears a very attractive fall dress and several pieces of good jewelry.
MISS JENNER: She is a rather precise young woman in her twenties. She wears a tailored suit and a hat.
Several changes have been made from the book's characters. George has become Georgie and is also described as Nancy's frivolous friend. Bess is Nancy's serious friend. Diane Dight has become Diane Lally, and Diane's mother is Mrs. Lally. Mr. March has become a woman, Mrs. March, who is Susan's grandmother. Susan is fifteen years old instead of six years old. Mr. Jenner, the owner of the music company, is now Miss Jenner. Effie and Nancy are the only two characters who are about the same as what they are in the book. Horace Lally, Mr. Dight, Mr. Booker, and Bushy Trott are in the book but do not appear in the play. Since the book's villain is Bushy Trott, the play's villain is of necessity a different person.
The plot of the play is completely centered upon the missing March music. The book has two subplots which are completely omitted from the play. In the book, Diane Dight tricks Ned into inviting her to the Emerson dance, and Mr. Booker suspects that his secret formula for a special fabric has been stolen by Bushy Trott. The plot of the play is much simpler than that of the book which allows for the greatly expanded dialogue of the play. There are no direct quotes from the book present in the play. The text of the play is completely original, and it is just the general plot of the missing music that is taken from the book.
Even though the book has a more complex plot than the play, the play is just as good as the book, only in a different way. After reading the play, I have thought about how the book could have been different. I have no complaints about the book, but reading the play has caused me to consider how neat it would have been if there were more humor in the book, especially with Effie.
Below is a summary of the plot of the play, scene by scene. I have made the summary as brief as I could without leaving out any important points. So much happens in the play that I could have easily made the summary longer than what is presented here. This 54-page play is full of action with no filler material. Everything that happens is important to the plot, which is in contrast to the book in which certain comments could have been left out without detriment to the plot. I have added a few of the more interesting and amusing quotes to the summary. Enjoy!
As the play opens, Mrs. March and Susan tidy up the attic for the arrival of Nancy Drew. The Marches have asked Nancy to search for music that was written by Mrs. March's son and Susan's father, Phillip March. Mrs. March and Susan are in dire need of money and hope that the music can be found and sold. The Marches have already sold nearly all of their antiques with the help of their neighbor, Mrs. Lally.
Effie helps Mrs. March and Susan prepare the attic, and Effie expresses doubt about Nancy's common sense in deciding to sleep on a couch in the attic. Shortly, Nancy arrives, bringing her father's picture with her which she places on a table. Nancy also brings a packet of letters that Mrs. March had given to her. The letters were written by Mrs. March's son, Phillip, and may provide a clue to the missing music. Nancy points out an interesting verse that she found in one letter:
Heed this message from my pen,
Climb the stairs and climb again;
Walk across the ancient floor,
Open wide the secret door,
Then the answer you will see,
Simply this, keys are the key.
Nancy feels that the verse is a clue to the location of the music and is certain that the verse refers to the attic. Nancy decides to search for secret panels and secret drawers in the attic. Next, the Marches tell Nancy that they have heard one of Phillip's songs on the radio and fear that the music may have been stolen. Susan mentions that Mrs. March rented rooms to tourists last summer and that someone may have found the music.
Mrs. Lally and her daughter, Diane, arrive and come up to the attic to visit with Nancy. After greeting Nancy, Mrs. Lally goes downstairs with Mrs. March, leaving Diane alone with Nancy. Diane chatters incessantly to Nancy while Nancy looks at the letters.
DIANE: Mother's getting me new slippers, too, Nancy. Silver.
NANCY: [not looking up] Mmm.
DIANE: And a little evening bag.
DIANE: A darling one, but just terribly expensive. [Crosses to NANCY] Nancy, are you listening to me? Or am I bothering you? If you're concentrating on something, do tell me, and I'll not say another word. Because I know how it is when a person tries to keep her mind on something, and someone else keeps chattering all the time.
NANCY: [looking up] Do you?
DIANE: Really, it's most annoying, isn't it? So if I am bothering you [Comes closer] You're reading old letters, aren't you? Why are you reading old letters?
After this conversion, Bess and Georgie arrive. Georgie sits on the couch and bounces up and down to try it out. Bess has brought a radio and plugs in it for Nancy. The girls open a trunk and begin taking out dresses. They fix up a dressmaker's dummy and name her Miss Mehitibel. Suddenly Susan hears one of her father's songs on the radio.
Nancy knows the title of the song, so she goes downstairs to call a friend who works in a music store. After completing her conversation, Nancy returns to the attic to reveal that the composer is Ben Banks and that the music was published by the Jenner Music Publishing Company. Nancy says that she called the company and spoke to someone named Miss Jenner. Miss Jenner became quite indignant when Nancy suggested that the music had been stolen.
Susan thinks the name Jenner sounds familiar and recalls that a James Jenner stayed at the house last summer. The group hears a banging shutter several times, and Effie sees a strange man outside. The girls leave the attic to investigate.
The girls return to the attic to find the light off and the rocking chair rocking back and forth gently until it stops. Somebody was in the attic! Nancy looks in the wardrobe and trunk for the intruder, but finds nothing. Since nobody passed the girls on the stairs, Nancy concludes that there must be a secret entrance to the attic. Effie asks Nancy is she is armed and decides to go find some weapons when Nancy tells her that she is unarmed.
Miss Jenner arrives and comes to the attic to speak to Nancy. Miss Jenner tries to find out what Nancy knows about the music and demands to see a copy. During the conversation, Nancy tells Miss Jenner that someone named James Jenner rented a room last summer. Miss Jenner admits that her brother's name is James, but is annoyed about what Nancy is implying. Miss Jenner heads towards the stairs in a huff. As Miss Jenner approaches the stairs, Effie appears.
EFFIE [in a deep voice] Don't take another step!
MISS JENNER [alarmed] Good heavens! [Steps back, putting her hands to her throat.]
SUSAN [jumping up] Oh!
NANCY [moving near MISS JENNER] Don't be afraid.
MISS JENNER [moving away from Nancy] Keep away from me!
EFFIE [outside door] Move at your own risk. I'm armed! [Pushes door open with her foot and comes into room. She holds an open umbrella in front of her like a shield, and is brandishing a rolling pin.]
MISS JENNER [ backing away] Is she out of her mind?
EFFIE [menacingly] Capture her! She's one of the gang!
Fortunately Nancy and Susan get Effie's weapons away from her, and Miss Jenner leaves. Everyone except Nancy leaves the attic. Suddenly, Nancy hears piano music, and a spooky voice warns Nancy to leave the house immediately!
Bess and Georgie return from searching outside, having found nothing. The girls discuss what Nancy heard and whether Effie really saw a man. They decide to tap for secret panels.
GEORGIE: In stories, there's always a hollow sound. Listen. [Taps hard.] Ow! [Puts her knuckles to her mouth.]
The girls read the verse from the letter again but are not able to figure out what it means. Nancy empties the wardrobe of its contents and finds nothing. Nancy stays in the attic while everyone else goes downstairs. Nancy decides to push the wardrobe aside and discovers a secret door. The door is locked, and Nancy hurries from the attic to get a key ring. While Nancy is gone, an intruder whose face is hidden by a handkerchief opens the door and steps out into the attic. He sees the letters and looks through them. As Nancy returns, the man hides in the wardrobe. Nancy tries the knob of the door and is surprised that it is unlocked. Nancy enters the secret room.
Nancy finds the lost music in the hidden room and returns to the attic through the secret door. The intruder sneaks up behind Nancy and hits her over the head! He ties Nancy up and hides her in the secret room. The intruder pushes the wardrobe back in front of the secret door, leaving a small part of the door visible. He hides in the wardrobe just before Susan and Effie enter the attic. The girls are surprised that Nancy has disappeared but assume that Nancy has followed Bess and Georgie over to Diane Lally's house. Susan and Effie hear a moan and are frightened.
Bess and Georgie enter the attic excitedly and report that Diane Lally has been kidnapped! The girls found a pair of men's gloves on Diane's front porch, and Diane is nowhere to be found. Perhaps the mysterious intruder has kidnapped Diane!
Mrs. March and Mrs. Lally now enter the attic. Everyone is worried about both Diane and Nancy and consider calling the police. Effie stays in the attic while everyone else goes outside to look around. Effie goes over to the wardrobe to open its door and is knocked over the head by the intruder!
The others return to the attic and wonder what is wrong with Effie. Effie is groggy and doesn't know what happened to her. After hearing more moans, the girls finally notice the edge of the secret door. They push the wardrobe out of the way, commenting about how heavy it is. The girls enter the secret room and find Nancy. As they return to the attic, supporting Nancy, the intruder exits the wardrobe and tries to escape.
Mrs. March, Mrs. Lally, and Miss Jenner enter the attic as the girls all grab at the intruder. The intruder is subdued and the handkerchief is pulled from the figure's face to reveal . . . Diane!
Diane claims that Mrs. Lally forced her to steal the music; at the same time, Mrs. Lally blames Diane's taste for lavish taste in clothing as the reason for stealing. Mrs. Lally explains that found the first piece of music while she was searching the attic for antiques to sell for Mrs. March. Since the missing music has been found, Mrs. March decides to let the two women go without pressing charges. Miss Jenner apologizes to Nancy for her attitude and asks Mrs. March if she can see the rest of the music. Miss Jenner feels certain that her company will want to publish it.
In closing, Susan, Bess, and Georgie comment how Nancy was hidden in the secret room, and they had no idea. The girls teasingly chide the dressmaker's dummy Mehitibel for seeing everything and keeping silent about it.
GEORGIE: Sees all, hears all, tells nothing. The perfect woman! [Laughs. Other girls join in her laughter.]