Sunday, August 17, 2014

TALLEY'S FOLLY- The Winnipesaukee Playhouse


TALLEY'S FOLLY



written by Lanford Wilson

presented by the Winnipesaukee Playhouse

directed by Marta Rainer



TALLEY'S FOLLY is the middle play in Lanford Wilson's Talley trilogy, focusing on daughter Sally and her lover, immigrant Matt Friedman, as each struggles to make sense of their lives during a time of mutual alienation, and the events and people which cause them to reconnect.

It's not so much what's on the surface- the unorthodox love affair between two socially disparate people while the country is in the grip of World War II, to name but one aspect- but what Sally and Matt have put aside, or buried within the accrued rickrack of their emotional lives, which is of value here.  

It's the manner in which Sally and Matt unearth these forgotten treasures, and how they implement them in the search for what they want, which endows TALLEY'S FOLLY with a bounty of sterling examples of how the past informs the present, and thus the future, and of what is possible when we move between tenses: this is who we were; this is who we are now; this is who we can be.  
  
TALLEY'S FOLLY is praiseworthy in that it sets itself apart structurally- one of its two principal characters, Matt, breaks the fourth wall to act as the play's de facto narrator at the play's beginning and at its conclusion; the set remains static; the entire play is executed in real time- ninety-seven minutes- and in one act, taking place on the Talley homestead on July 4, 1944, the same time and place as TALLEY AND SON, the third play in Wilson's trilogy but first in the chronology Wilson sets. 

This is a play of exposition; as such, there's far less of the delicate balance between action and dialogue than in other works. Words are what drive this play, and it's the way playwright Lanford Wilson assembles those words which gives it a singular power- phrases unique to both time and place, and to personality and history.  

Wilson's dialogue is sui generis, consisting of a language and a cadence all its own, requiring that the actors catch onto the rhythms, the phrasings, and the subtext of what Wilson would have conveyed in terms of articulating who the characters are, the conflicts which unite them (or keep them apart), and what they intend to do to move past the events and causalities which draw and bind them to a place as unconventional as a dilapidated old boathouse on a Midwestern river as the sun begins to set.      

In the Winnipesaukee Playhouse's final offering of the 2014 summer season, the actors are excellent in many ways, but unfortunately as of opening night didn't demonstrate the facility of immersion in the specialized dialect which is required to give this play the energy it deserves. 

Toby Miller, who plays Matt Friedman, tends to fall back on vocal and physical gimmickry, either speeding his end of the conversation or gesturing needlessly, coming off as frenetic and scattered in his characterization.  To be fair, Miller is also tasked with having to speak with a regional European accent, further deepening the mystery of Matt's murky past; he gets the accent pretty well, but it pales against the overdone gesticulations and the staccato bursts of speech.  

Molly Parker Myers, as Sally Talley, is exponentially better with her interpretation of the colloquy required of Sally; Myers also understands that it isn't what's said so much as what's left unspoken, trusting that the audience is capable of divining the emotional gradient beneath the words.  Her deliberate pauses often balance out Miller's more strident efforts, but just as often come across as lugubrious.   

Outside of the dialectic pitfalls, each actor is consistent in what they manifest; subsequent performances may lend further focus and clarity to that which the actors intend to convey.  

Director Marta Rainer herself catches on to other patterns within TALLEY'S FOLLY- in particular how Wilson's writing illuminates characters who are never seen, but who are given critical importance to the present contentions which keep Sally and Matt at cross-purposes.  

Rainer understands- at least academically- that a nascent romance requires a certain degree of struggle before it can reach full bloom.  However, she focuses too much on the "meet-cute" aspect of the play, preferring to accentuate the preciousness of Sally and Matt's evolving relationship, broadcasting her own hope for the potential joy to which they as a couple are entitled, rather than emphasizing the small satisfactions they can earn as they work to get past the obstacles which thus far have prevented Sally and Matt from even being a couple- Sally's prejudiced, deeply dysfunctional family, her secret shame, Matt's ambivalence at his own checkered history and conflicted present existence, and what it will mean for them to be together at a time when the nation itself is in conflict.  

While hope for a happy future is laudable, hope is a construct; its very intangibility makes it ephemeral.  It's the stormy present, and the effort that the characters put forth in coping with it, which is of substance here, and of far more value in imparting what's really important, not merely the hope to which Sally and Matt aspire.  Rainer chooses to gloss over that, and in so doing, diffuses the play's overall impact. 

TALLEY's set is lushly rendered; it's as much a player onstage as the actors themselves.   Designed by Charles Morgan, it represents a Victorian- era folly,  a building erected for decoration, popular among the landed gentry at the turn of the 20th century as a way to show off their wealth and possessions, performing no function except to be a place to withdraw from the demands of life and family. 

The folly we see does double-duty as a boathouse, but it's clear from the onset that it's seen better days- its paint is faded, some of its ornate gingerbread latticework is missing, and items brought from the big house back in the day have acquired the patina of neglect.  It's both lovely and sad, a representation of the ennui which grips those that seek refuge within its dilapidated walls.

Lighting designer Becky Marsh provides a light show of unparalleled beauty; a sunset which slowly fades into twilight, giving way to the subsequent rising of the moon, painting the scene with a rich palette of color at first, then dappling everything with a resplendent interplay of light and shadow. Neil Pankhurst's soundscape is a palette of secret night sounds, interspersed with music of the era,  
adding another opulent dimension to the already compelling scenic composition onstage.

Despite this production's deficiencies, I recommend that you see it.  See it for its sets, lights, sounds, costumes and props- in fact, see it for all the ways in which the Winnipesaukee Playhouse technically manifests its consistently stellar offerings.  

See it for the story and the language in which the story is framed. See it not merely for what it currently is, but what it can be.  

See it for the manner in which Lanford Wilson crafts an otherwise superb parable, weaving a powerful narrative into the tapestry of a bygone time and place, and characters who exist to fight for their hearts' desire.  Like the larger life through which we all move, there are stumbling blocks, but none so great that the lessons within are eclipsed.  

As Sally and Matt discover within the confines in that old whimsical structure on the river, everything that makes TALLEY'S FOLLY worth seeing is there, waiting to be found.   

It's only when we find those things, and bring them out into the open, that we can we make use of them.  That is their value.   There is treasure here.  I am sure of it.  You will be, too. 


TALLEY'S FOLLY  plays through August 30, 2014 at The Winnipesaukee Playhouse.  Click the logo to go to their website for tickets and information. 
  






Michael J. Curtiss
 is a writer and playwright residing in Southern NH.  When not acting as a freelance theatre critic, he oversees online marketing and social media for Costumes of Nashua LLC & Creative Costuming, based in Hudson, NH, and administers THE GRANITE STAGE page on Facebook.

Friday, August 8, 2014

ANY OTHER NAME- The Winnipesaukee Playhouse


ANY 

OTHER 

NAME


by George Brant


presented by The Winnipesaukee Playhouse


directed by Bryan Halperin 
















Imagine, if you will, that you are a down-at-heel critic in early Victorian England, aspiring to be a poet of renown, yet unable to rise past your own mediocrity in your chosen medium.   

You've somehow come into possession of a celebrated bard, one whose poems are of such sterling quality that his literary star burns brightly across the land despite his protracted absence, who's suffered a complete mental breakdown.

You've managed to sequester the poet in a distant oubliette of an asylum, far from the civilized world- but rather than do what you can to help this brilliant sonnetist regain his faculties and restore him to the grateful elites who patronized him, you engineer a convoluted plan to pass YOURSELF off as the poet, leaving him to rot while you convince the world that all of the verses he's been obsessively churning out while immured in the madhouse are, in fact, yours. 


Add a beautiful wife whom you ache to present as a glittering jewel to high society, though you lack the funds to do so, who seems very, very eager to assist you in your mad quest. Throw in an artfully devious publisher who first doubts your story, then presses you to not only produce poems in the style which made your prisoner famous, but to act as unhinged as your demented charge.  

He demands you do this to add a layer of controversy and sensation to your manufactured re-emergence, and thus drive sales of your newest "work" into the stratosphere, making you both rich beyond your wildest dreams of avarice.

And you do- only to find yourself ever more tightly ensnared in a malevolent net of lies necessary to defend and preserve a name and a craft- neither which are yours.  


Extraordinary?  Unbelievable?  Perhaps. But we're not here to debate the logistics of improbability, only to sit back and bear witness to what can happen when improbabilities converge.

Improbability is the at the crux of George Brant's absorbing thriller ANY OTHER NAME, and what sets it apart is 
that it hinges not on supernatural leanings or otherworldly experiences, but that it relies solely on cardinal sins-  desire, envy, and lust, to name but three- and how they spark the fantastic journeys of the mere mortals in the thrall of those sins.    

As performed by The Winnipesaukee Playhouse, the New England debut of ANY OTHER NAME is driven by an ensemble of four powerhouse actors- returning veteran Nicholas Wilder, newcomers Rebecca Tucker and Toby Miller, and perennial Playhouse favorite Richard Brundage.  


Their stock in trade is that they're all exquisitely adept at manifesting their characters as specific archetypes- John Clark, a mad poet (Brundage), mendacious critic Edward Ballard (Wilder), his Machiavellian wife Margaret (Tucker), and Maddock, a canny publisher (Miller).

In the best tradition of the genus thrillus maximus,  these superb actors convince us utterly that they are who they say they are, and that they want what they say they want- that is, of course, until something comes along to change who they want you to think they are, and what they say they want.  And something always comes along.

Confused?  Good.  Intrigued?  Even better. 


This aggregate of talent is shaped and brought into focus by ANY OTHER NAME's director, Bryan Halperin, himself an aficionado of the suspense/thriller genre, having helmed the Playhouse's TURN OF THE SCREW in 2012, and 2010's SCOTLAND ROAD.    

Halperin understands that, in order to maximize the effect the classic thriller must have on the audience, one must tease the audience with a light, feather-like touch, tantalizing them with neatly placed clues and incrementally moving the characters forward, keeping the audience guessing and artfully moving them toward the play's climax by making them go where you want them to go without letting it slip that that's what you're doing.

Then, once they're right where they need to be, one picks up the bludgeon, swooping in for the kill- and if you do it just right, as Halperin and his crew clearly do- the audience is just as delighted in the kill as they are in being set up for it.

With suspense, it's not so much the end result you're looking for; it's the execution, as it were.  In both form and function, The Winnipesaukee Playhouse distinguishes itself with this offbeat work for the stage.  Well done.   


Matthew Guminski's moody light plot enhances the ominous atmosphere of ANY OTHER NAME throughout, and Melissa Shakun's set is cleverly allegorical, representing an asylum cell, a low-rent flat and a well-appointed office in nested acting spaces, each on its own level.   Strategic components of each location have been subtracted- bits of stone, brick or plaster here and there, further adding to the illusion that while every scene is connected to the next, this entire production is a puzzle, with pieces missing, needing to be found and fitted to their proper place in this enchanting enigma of a play.   

Look for bits of foreshadowing- in the action, the dialogue, the scenic backgrounds, even from the actors themselves: a name, uttered in error (or is it?), a tooth, a necklace, and more.  One finds one's mind casting back even as the action moves forward: did ____ really say _____?  Why was there so much emphasis on the _____?  Why does _____give the  _____ to _____?  

The manner in which these disparate elements come to the surface requires that attention be paid if you intend to predict how ANY OTHER NAME ends; it rockets right along, clocking in at right around the two-hour mark, so keeping up with the play and trying to figure out its ending is part of its allure as it races to its climax.  

Speaking of endings: I promise you, the ending you get won't be the one you expect, no matter how adept you think yourself at solving these kinds of mysteries.

If you come alone, you'll drive home going over in your head what you think you see and hear, and if you're part of a larger party, then be prepared to be engaged in vigorous debate as you walk out of the theatre, in an attempt to deconstruct the the events which unfold on stage. 


Whether by yourself or in a crowd, you'll have an enjoyably tough time coming to a satisfying conclusion about the mechanics of how the characters in ANY OTHER NAME reach their end point.  

In an age where so many shows are done to the point where they become blandly predictable, ANY OTHER NAME is compelling theatre.  It's riveting and suspenseful, and the folks at The Winnipesaukee Playhouse do well by this latest offering- it draws you in, turns you upside down, and then lets you loose to try to figure out what in the hell just happened.  See for yourself.  


ANY OTHER NAME  plays through August 16. 2014 at The Winnipesaukee Playhouse.  Click the logo to go to their website for tickets and information. 
  






Michael J. Curtiss
 is a writer and playwright residing in Southern NH.  When not acting as a freelance theatre critic, he oversees online marketing and social media for Costumes of Nashua LLC & Creative Costuming, based in Hudson, NH, and administers THE GRANITE STAGE page on Facebook.





Tuesday, August 5, 2014

SPRING AWAKENING- Peacock Players & Company


presented by The Peacock Players & Company

book and lyrics by Steven Sater with music by Duncan Sheik, based on the play SPRING AWAKENING by Frank Wedekind

directed by Keith Weirich

musically directed by Henry Kopczynskie III

choreographed by Valerie Psoinos Nelson



In the dear dim days of 1891 Germany, young men and women endured a rite of passage delicately referred to as "coming of age"- crossing a largely fictional line of demarcation and assuming the burdens of adulthood, usually at the behest of parents who had followed the laws of God and man of the time, and who had exhausted themselves producing literal herds of progeny.  

These parents would then conscript their older children into caring for the younger, or would send them out into the world to contribute to the family coffers, apprenticing them to tradesmen and factory owners, consigning their oldest sons and daughters to lives of drab servitude until they could assume positions of trust (if male) or marry and produce children (if female), thus assuring that the circle of sameness would continue unbroken for yet another generation, and another.  And so on.   

Complicate the lives of these young people further by throttling their intellectual development, demanding that they adhere to the rigorous moral and social codes set down by the tenets of the prevailing religious and sovereign orders of the time, without question.  Add their inevitable sexual maturation to the mix, all without properly explaining the strange and often frightening changes they experience in both body and mind- except to dismiss it, or characterize it as evil or diseased-  and when all of these incredible pressures converge, something has to give, and not in a good way.  

It's the culmination of these pressures which set into motion a series of events that ultimately shape the lives and destinies of the characters populating the superlative alt-rock musical SPRING AWAKENING, the inaugural production of Peacock Players & Company, the new community division of the celebrated youth theatre organization.  

Director Keith Weirich doesn't blanch at the thought of addressing the frank sexuality or the raw subject matter of SPRING AWAKENING, nor does he trample the finer points of the story into the ground in an attempt to mask his discomfort with SPRING AWAKENING's often grim content. Rather, Weirich strides right up to to the play, introducing himself and giving it a firm handshake while looking it squarely in the eye, taking the audience with him as he and his cast unflinchingly chart the journeys of the characters whose lives spin out inside of the story.  

Weirich understands that SPRING AWAKENING is powered by a third rail filled with taboo subjects: sex and sexuality, pregnancy and abortion, parental neglect and abuse, depression and suicide, and, perhaps most insidious of all, the darkly pervasive power of denial which threads through this play and sways the courses of several of its characters.   Weirich doesn't shy away from showing us that third rail, telling us that yes, it can kill you if you touch it, but that's also where all the power of SPRING AWAKENING is, and it is imperative that you learn what that power can do.

In essence, SPRING AWAKENING chronicles the travails of a group of elite private school boys as they labor to excel at their studies and assume their place in the stifling social order of the late 19th century Deutsches Reich, the historical nation state that existed from the unification of Germany in 1871 to defeat in World War I in 1918.  

On a parallel track are teenage girls from the village, denied the same privileges as their male counterparts and only able to dream of the day when they will marry one of the schoolboys and start families, dreaming that somehow the union will somehow give them the opportunity to get up, out and away from the somnolent and soporific lives they now lead. A troupe of boys from the local reformatory plays a rough counterpart to the two groups. Though they are all from different levels of society, the common threads which bind them are their awareness (and sometimes despair) of the predetermined direction in life to which they are bent, but the exponentially expanding knowledge of who they are as sexual beings, and what they might do with that burgeoning wisdom.

Wendla (Grace Kontak) finds herself attracted to rising scholar Melchior (Taylor Morrow); she is aware that her feelings mean something but when she begs her mother (Maryellen Stevenson) for an explanation, she is soundly rebuffed. Meanwhile, Melchior seeks to help his friend Moritz (Alex Giggey), a perennial underachiever, make it through the school year without flunking out, a threat constantly leveled by the Teutonically severe headmaster (Keith Weirich). Moritz is plagued by erotic thoughts and thinks himself either insane or on the verge, even though Melchior tries to assuage his fears by creating an illustrated essay on sex to convince Moritz that what he feels is natural.   Sparks fly when Wendla and Melchior, friends since childhood but separated by societal constraints, meet and rekindle their relationship, and their mutual attraction blossoms into something deeper. In the interim, Wenda's friends discover that Martha (Alyssa Dumas) is being sexually abused by her father, and another friend Ilse (Julia Enos) has been turned out of the home for "wanton" behavior. 
Lest you be worried that SPRING AWAKENING is all straight sex, no worries: there's a scene in Act 2 where one of the schoolboys, Hanschen (Danny Shea), seduces a classmate, Ernst (Bryce McAllister).  The scene is played with an offhanded sweetness, and it's less about the sex than it is about two boys acting out a romantic fantasy, but Shea plays the smooth-talking aggressor in perfect harmony with McAllister's shy, naive but equally eager counterpart, and the scene between them rings true and tender, culminating in a kiss that's as convincing as it is electric.   Oddly, this is as far as the boys go; it's never said what comes of their nascent love affair, or where it takes them.  In context with other elements of the storyline, Hanschen's and Ernst's encounter is little more than a token distraction- a fumbling effort on the part of the writers to be inclusive in an age of ever-expanding sexual diversity, perhaps.  Too bad. The scene is rich with potential; its resolution, less so.

As the show progresses, the audience witnesses the unfolding struggles of children who seek answers about life and love but are hamstrung by the deliberate callowness, outright fear, and often savage treatment which comes at them from the adults in charge. The children, at cross-purposes with the status quo, try to break through the unyielding curtain of taboo and ignorance, only to find themselves forever crippled by the consequences of their actions- or worse.  

To describe where the choices the children and the adults make ultimately take them is to give too much away, but there is a reason Frank Wedekind gave his play the subtitle "A Children's Tragedy". This isn't to say that this incarnation of SPRING AWAKENING is wholly a tragedy: there is also hope, and kindness, and poignancy, and humor. While tragic moments abound, this musical is in no way bogged down by calamity or privation. It's more of a cautionary tale: a contemporary parable, if you will, and a damned good one.

This is a big show. There are about thirty people in the cast of SPRING AWAKENING, playing a variety of characters, and because this is Peacock Players' initial foray into community theatre, the age range is very wide indeed. However, the talent level of this cast is refreshingly constant; led by the principal actors, the entire cast displays energy and inventiveness, and a deep investment in not only their characters but in the story they're playing out onstage. Each is attuned to what's happening at all times, and they're a joy to watch.

Musical numbers interspersed throughout SPRING AWAKENING are excellent: in particular "Mama Who Bore Me", "the Bitch of Living", "The Guilty Ones" and the anthem-like "Totally Fucked". These aren't happy, up-tempo Broadway numbers, but wistful, or braying, or dirgelike songs- often dissonant or staccato musical commentaries, not always pleasing to the ear, but compelling in their narrative.  

Orchestral accompaniment led by Henry Kopczynskie III is spot on, and Valerie Psoinos Nelson kills it with stellar choreography.  Maggie Mahony's costumes are superb.  

Technical and scenic elements are efficient, yet supportive: the set, designed by Weirich and Dan Kohler and painted by Jessie McCoy, consists of one large two-level square set dead center, upon which most of the activity takes place; benches stage right and left hold the show's chorus and provide an additional layer to the action. Lights, again by Weirich with the assistance of Norm St. Germain, are are intuitive and kinetic, keyed to integral moments in the play.  There's a lot of haze used throughout the show and one wonders if it's totally necessary; it doesn't distract, but often it's superfluous. Sound by Rich Loomer is troublesome and could use some judicious tweaking: late pickups and static are a constant annoyance.

Last: the question of whether or not to bring the kids.  It depends.  Because this is a hybrid production of teenagers and adults (ergo the "& Company") and because it deals with adult themes, the answer is absolutely, you should bring your kids- but ONLY if you, and they, are intellectually ready to sit through some gritty stuff, and you're prepared as a parent to maybe have to talk about what goes down in the course of the show. If they're not, or you're not, then no: you should all stay home and watch FROZEN together, because SPRING AWAKENING isn't for you.

But if they are, and you are, and you understand that sometimes parents and kids have to talk about subjects that make both squirm, and you can find a way to explain that a benighted life is inevitably cruel, and that the expression of love- no matter how pure or innocent- has consequences both good and bad, then by all means: bring the kids, and anyone else you think might benefit from seeing SPRING AWAKENING, because Peacock Players & Company put on one hell of a show.  



SPRING AWAKENING runs through August 10, 2014 at the Court Street Theatre in Nashua.  Please click the Peacock Players logo below to get tickets and information.



Please note that SPRING AWAKENING is rated R due to mature content, sexual themes, language, and violence.








Michael J. Curtiss is a writer and playwright who resides in southern NH.  In addition to his work as a freelance theatre critic, he administers THE GRANITE STAGE page.




Sunday, July 27, 2014

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER- The Winnipesaukee Playhouse







presented by The Winnipesaukee Playhouse

adapted by Laura Eason from the novel by Mark Twain

directed by Bryan Halperin



"It is the tale, not he who tells it."
-Stephen King, THE BREATHING METHOD


There are readers who'd consider the above quote axiomatic; that it's universally accepted some stories are so gripping in the details they reveal as each page is turned, it doesn't matter who first birthed that story.

They'd argue that some stories are so compelling in their narrative, should they not be credited with a specific author, doubtless they would end up attributed to another, falling as they do under the canon of "if it isn't true, it ought to be."

 Happily, most stories boast their own well-known progenitor, and we can counter with confidence that it is not only the tale which is told, but, when it comes to weaving the disparate threads of drama, pathos, suspense, whimsy and caprice into one legendary yarn about one Midwestern boy, his compatriots, and their adventures, it is the story, and the writer who sired it, which are universally known and loved.     

Indeed, who but a writer of Mark Twain's prodigious writing ability could speak of prosaic things like schoolyards and swimming holes, corncob pipes and whitewashed fences, spice them up with love, greed and murder, then  take us on a dizzying whirlwind trip through a small Missouri town, a graveyard at midnight, a jail, a courtroom, a haunted house, an island in the Mississippi River, and a cave, and do so in such a way that while we have not once left our cozy reading spot, we believe we have been, like the heroes of our story, on a great and wondrous journey? 

It's both the content and character of Twain's classic tale of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER which Laura Eason wisely retains and leaves largely unchanged in her adaptation; however, what sets Eason's treatment of Twain's original novel apart is that she adds another element to the story- that of theatre, while paying tribute to Twain's time-honored saga.  By adding theatrical magic- actors, sets, lights, costumes, props, and even music- the story of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher and the good people of St. Petersburg, Missouri takes on a fresh, exciting  life, renewed in its vibrant, engaging qualities, and ultimately endowed with a poignant humanity.  

Director Bryan Halperin expertly balances Twain's story, Eason's adaptation, and the challenges of mounting this unique work for the stage by blending the scenic and technical elements together in an understated and seamless manner, preferring to focus on the human side of the story, rather than that which supports it.  

Instead of relying on stage magic, Halperin stresses the ensemble aspect of the piece, tasking eight actors with playing multiple roles,  having them animate the many people who populate the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, sleepily spinning out its days on the banks of the Mississippi River in the halcyon days of 1840s America, before the nation was swept up in the privations and calumny brought about by the Civil War. 

Small ensemble pieces which provide actors with opportunities to take on multiple characters and then make them unforgettable are a Winnipesaukee Playhouse trademark- and TOM SAWYER takes its place right alongside gems like SHERLOCK HOMES, THE COMPLETE HISTORY of AMERICA, SHIPWRECKED and a host of others which have played a large part in helping the Playhouse become a Lakes Region staple since its inception in 2004.

The principle reason that these shows have become a Winni P tradition: the actors themselves:
TOM SAWYER's cast, made up of Playhouse veterans and newcomers alike, expand on the tradition of the multiple-role ensemble piece, adding their own signature to it with a host of superb performances.

William Vaughn and Rebecca Tucker, at the forefront of this groundswell of talent, turn in fun performances as Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher respectively, playing up the exuberant innocence and childlike sense of wonder which drives their characters. 
The always reliable A. J. Ditty occupies his role as Huckleberry Finn with aplomb, and so, too, do John C. Nagy III, Nicholas Wilder, Bryn Austin, and Toby Miller as they bring a host of characters to life on the stage.  Adam Kee rounds out the cast as a fussy, strap-happy schoolmaster and several other townsfolk, then does a menacing turn as TOM SAWYER's principal villain, Injun Joe.   All of the characters are manifested with crisp, clean interpretations, wholly dependent on the expertise of the actors playing them, with a minimum of props and costumes.     

Scenic elements as executed by David Towlun mimic the actors, in that certain aspects of the set are first one thing, then another: a fence becomes the inside of a schoolhouse, or the embankment on a river.  The floor transforms into water, a graveyard, then a cave filled with pitfalls and buried treasure.  And so on.  Matt Guminski's lighting is, as usual, intuitively faithful to the storyline, making use of both light and shadow to support the many settings that make up the environs in and around St. Petersburg. Live music, composed by Joel Mercier and often played by the actors themselves, augments the action and accentuates the mood.  A special shout goes out to technical director Joshua Jansen, whose tireless work on this production makes possible a few fascinating special effects, which have to be seen to be fully appreciated. 

Adults in particular might find themselves filled with nostalgia upon seeing THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER play out on the Winni P stage, and that's a good thing: it's a work which serves to remind us of the uncomplicated lives we ourselves may have led when we were once children, when everything was new and gleaming with promise and nothing seemed impossible.  Or it may remind us what a wonderful book Tom Sawyer was, and is, and perhaps spur us into re-reading it- or, even better, re-reading it out loud to our own children.

In play form, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER isn't just for the adults- by all means, bring the kids.  The content and language is safe for everyone, and the scary parts aren't so scary that you'll have to take the younger ones out of the theatre.  Children will not only love the play, they'll identify with it, and so will the grownups. It's a great experience for audiences of all ages, and a perfect way to introduce kids to a piece of classic American literature.  

To return to the quote at the top of this review: it is certainly the tale, in its timeless charm and the sweetly poignant lessons of childhood, which is of enduring value here. 

But we are fortunate in that those who tell the tale, tell it very well, much like the great Mark Twain did nearly 140 years ago- which only makes THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER that much more of a treasure.  Go see it.  



THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER plays through August 2. 2014 at The Winnipesaukee Playhouse.  Click the logo to go to their website for tickets and information. 
.   






Michael J. Curtiss is a writer, playwright, and theatre critic.  He administers THE GRANITE STAGE page and resides in southern New Hampshire.