Swashbuckling Adaptation Brings the Classic to Life
By Jim Reiter
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel Treasure Island has been adapted for the stage by Classic Theatre of Maryland, and the result is a snappy, swashbuckling animation of the classic tale.
More than 50 film and TV adaptations and countless stage adaptations have been made of the book so many of us read as pre-teens or young teens. It’s the tale that helped craft our image of the pirate, ideas of buried treasure and X-marks-the-spot maps we all associate with the genre today.
Classic Theatre’s Sally Boyett and Donald Hicken have crafted a streamlined adaptation that retains the gist of the iconic story and characters while coming in at an economical two hours, including intermission. However, it’s not a production that allows you to just sit back and be entertained. Whether you’ve read the book or not, a lot is going on at an exciting pace. Attention must be paid.
The reward is a production in which Jim Hawkins, one-legged Long John Silver, crazy Ben Gunn, and all the others jump from page to stage with nary a stumble among them. Treasure Island is a coming-of-age story for our narrator, young Jim Hawkins, who starts off working in his parents’ inn and soon finds himself aboard the Hispaniola, headed toward Treasure Island with a barbarous crew, some of whom are mutinous pirates.
Austin Rubinoski is very engaging as Jim, our narrator, guide, and hero, who makes us feel we are navigating the voyage with him. Steven Lamont’s Long John Silver beautifully brings to life the iconic pirate, convincing us, and Jim, that he has his friend’s best interests at heart, but brandishing his cunning opportunism like a musket. Jeffrey Allen Sneed’s Ben Gunn, the mad stranded man left on the island three years ago, hops across the stage like a waterbug, proclaiming his love for cheese, and infatuating all of us. It’s a cannon shot of a performance, every line and movement launching and landing with comedic accuracy, but also with a deep impact on the plot.
These and all the other fine performances are lively and believable, and the fantastic technical aspects of the production wholly enhance that believability. I use that word fantastic literally, for its definition in Miriam-Webster says both “based on fantasy” and “superlative”.
The costumes, lights, sound, and sets are, indeed, superlative, as they make us feel like we are part of the fantasy. The set is the deck of the ship, complete with a thick climbable mast and rigging that is handled like the real thing. When we move from deck to island, ingenious lighting and sound effects take us there with nary a change of set.
Speaking of sound, the near-constant creaking of an old boat at sea is so accurate it’s almost enough to make us feel we’re listing and lolling with her. Simple wooden boxes instantly transmute from a longboat to a stockade wall. And the fight choreography is so realistic and seamless that you fear each fracas may spill into the audience.
Thanks to terrific acting and superb staging and effects, Classic Theatre’s Treasure Island makes the swashbuckling classic feel new again.
Direction, staging, costumes by Sally Boyett and Donald Hicken; lighting by William K. D’Eugenio; sound by Sally Boyett; fight choreography by Andy Mac.
Treasure Island runs through April 23, FSa 8pm, SaSu 2pm, Classic Theatre of Maryland, Annapolis, $49-$68 w/discounts, RSVP: classictheatremaryland.org. About two hours with one intermission.