review by Janet I. Martineau
Shiver me timbers, mates! Can’t reckon when me have seen such fine, fine pirate acting.
And, did ya know, Long John Silver is a Quaker.
Those are the two thoughts that linger after attending a weekend Center Stage production of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic novel “Treasure Island” at the Midland Center for the Arts.
While the adventure novel seems, well, a little bit dated now depite this award-winning 2009 adaptation by Ken Ludwig, hats off to director Carol Rumba and her crew for making it fine, fine production.
With a cast of 33 it could have lumbered with scene changes and exits and entrances. Not with Rumba, who uses both wings of the stage as sets, keeps the action flowing from one scene to the next without a pause, delivers a fun center stage surprise as the second act begins, and always, always has some other little bits of action going everywhere even when the spoken lines are taking place where the spotlights shine.
|Kyle Bagnall as Blind Pew|
There also are props galore, multi-layered costumes, sword fights, real food. The only thing that does not work is the talking parrot effect, the uneven microphone levels and drifting English accents. Nor does the parrot look like a parrot.
Now, to the acting.
With 33 people there is no way to mention each and all, and besides this production is a fine example of ensemble work -- meaning all 33 enter in character, stay in character, layer on bits of business when not speaking, and when speaking speak clearly and with gumption.
That said, we wished for just a little more pizazz from Parker Bradford, cast as the narrator of this coming-of-age story about Jim Hawkins and his marvelous journey. We have seen Bradford excel in other productions, so we know he is capable. He just seems a little too tentative, laid back here.
But nailing it above and beyond are:
-- Kyle Bagnall as Blind Pew in a short but raging scene in which he is a terrifying pirate who swings his menacing cane with reckless abandon. We have seen Bagnall in numerous productions too, and this is his finest. There is not an ounce of Bagnall visible in his Blind Pew. Not an ounce. Even his voice is evil. His body contorting as he “senses” other people in the room. Lord we wanted to see more of him.
-- Adam Gardner as Ben Gunn, marooned on Treasure Island for years, half mad because of it, desperately longing for cheese to replace his oyster diet, his clothes in tatters, and given to crawling and bouncing around the stage like a wild animal. His voice is a half-giggle, which in turn makes the audience giggle. He reminded us of Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
-- Mark Dutcher as Billy Bones, in another short-lived role. He too is a terrifying, bigger-than-life pirate who has in his keep the map where X marks the spot of the treasure. He dies a magnificent death.
-- Jim Royle as Squire Trelawney, not a pirate but the nervous nelly who outfits the ship and its mission to recover the lost treasure. Problem is, most of the crew are pirates in disguise and he suffers greatly, and with great conviction, when that all comes to light and he is forced to battle in an attempt to save his life.
-- John Tanner as the famed leg-impaired Long John Silver, sort of a Renaissance man, one both evil and good; given to quoting Shakespeare and trying to keep his idiot pirates under control. Tanner has some of the script’s finest lines, ones which adults will most appreciate, and he knows how to deliver them with the drollness of a Maggie Smith.
Bravos also to scenic designer Kristen Lences for the excellent and creative set; to costumer designer Laurelei Horton and her extensive crew; to Steve and Mary Rita Johnson for the detail-enhancing props.
But a word of caution. The Saturday afternoon performance had a goodly number of very young (and TALKATIVE and restless) kids in attendance.
This is NOT a show for the very young. This is not a CHILDREN’S show. These pirates are nasty and kill, as do others in the cast; the language/script level is aimed at a coming-of-age age (not early elementary and younger); it does have long passages of talk more than action as it tells a story in which goodness triumphs over evil.
So be warned, mates.