Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Enchanted Island at STC

Success of a play almost always depends on a compelling story and fascinating characters. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic “Treasure Island” adds another ingredient to the mix: atmosphere. The plot may read like a tale told by an idiot, but on stage it captures something deep in the human psyche, something that reveals itself in dreams or fairy tales.

Even the title has atmosphere. At the story level “Treasure” refers to hidden wealth fought over by pirates, yet on the atmospheric level the island itself is a treasure—the treasure of beauty and wonder.

Sacramento Theatre Company and Peggy Shannon, its artistic director and the play’s director, have a way with fantasy that enchants the very young as well as the young at heart. Before the action begins the mood is set by Mark Standriff, managing director. Along with the usual information about exits and cell phones, he previews the yarn with a mixture of chuckles and “aarghs,” implying that we not take anything we see seriously.

And what we see is a world full of innocent mayhem. Stevenson created the world’s folklore of pirates, monsters who can be bested by little boys and fairies. Ordinarily we shy away from exposing children to murderous violence, but the fantasy pirate world is much like a children’s game, ringing with shouts of “I shot you! You’re dead!” But we know that the kids are innocent of any concept of death.

Arthur Rotch’s fluid stage draws our eyes to a giant map of the island, taking up the whole back wall. Before it is a low wall that can double as the side of a ship, over which victims can be tossed to sharks. Mid-stage and off center are a pair of huge wooden columns, like four-sided ladders, allowing actors to climb them as imaginary masts. Added to all is a mobile door, which can be tucked out of the way when nobody is coming or going in or out of imaginary rooms.

And Todd Rochrman’s wildly colorful costumes so disguise the actors that some of the region’s most popular actors—from STC, B Street and Capital Stage—appear and disappear in multiple roles, yet are almost totally unrecognizable. Among them are Matt K. Miller, David Campfield, and Michael R.J. Campbell. Taking the proverbial cake is Michael Stevenson as Long John Silver stomping around on a wooden leg, his missing leg stuck up behind him so that he resembles a miniature giraffe.

The story is a memory play told by a 14-year-old Jim Hawkins (Anna Miles/Will Block, with understudy Alyssa Middleton taking over on October 16 and 17). It starts with Jim as a young man confronting Captain Flint (Patrick Murphy), who we learn later was dead at the time. Never mind. The precocious boy has lost his father and struggles to help his mother in a dangerous world.

Dodging pirates and enlisting with Captain Smollet (Matt K. Miller), a starchy British officer, Jim arrives on Treasure Island, where he encounters castaway Ben Gunn (Jonathan Rhys Williams), who longs for cheese and gives Jim a map showing where a treasure is buried. The rest of the play is consumed with bloody struggles to gain possession of the map.

If you see the play don’t try to think about it too much, especially when coping with the thick, often impenetrable English dialect—which sometimes baffled me, though I spent lengthy stays in England. Just enjoy the fun. It will probably be irresistible anyway. On opening night the play drew a standing ovation from young and old alike.

“Treasure Island” runs through November 2 in the Wells Fargo Complex, 1419 H Street. Performances are Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Thursday at 12:30 and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15-$40. Call the box office at (916) 443-6722 or call (888) 4-STC-TIX. See also http:// and

No comments: