The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Take note of three young, fully engaged actors who lead this excellent cast. Tim McKiernan, trained at the University of Arizona in Tucson, takes to the professional stage for the first time and he is poised, physical, and a smart choice to play Tom. Louisa Krause, as Becky Thatcher, has more extensive acting credits. With a delectable smile, she charms not only Tom but many more who watch the performance. Casey Predovic, who graduated from North Carolina School of the Arts just a year ago, plays Huckleberry Finn. He helps us recall that character: the kid in town who is always in trouble and avoids school and church. The rest of the performers each take on at least two roles. Much of the action spins around the archetypal bad guy: Injun Joe. Actor Teddy Canez nails the villain of the piece so that everyone in attendance loves to root against him.
For those who might have forgotten, Tom, in St. Petersburg, Missouri, during the 1840s, is the kind of kid who will take a swim instead of going to school. His Aunt Polly (Nancy Lemenager) tells him that he now must whitewash a fence, but Tom gets some of his friends to help out. Another day, he makes it to school but is late and is told to sit next to Becky. Instant romance! Later, Tom and Huck, in a cemetery, watch as Injun Joe kills Doc Robinson (Chris Bowyer). Muff Potter (Erik Lochtefeld) is blamed.
Eason's script, Cohen's direction, music and sound by Broken Chord Collective, and movement supplied by Tommy Rapley all come together as the second act opens. Tom is in the midst of a nightmare and within the bad dream Injun Joe, utilizing various means, slays individuals one by one. Then Tom awakens and the play moves forward. Tom, at a trial, eventually speaks the truth. Muff Potter gains freedom but Injun Joe runs off.
Daniel Ostling's scenic vision is at its best when Tom and Becky find themselves lost in a cave. The atmosphere is one of gloom and doom, and Becky fears she will die. Robert Wierzel's lighting creates just the right tone.
During a final scene, all of the actors come on stage to celebrate together. This is a delightful ending, even if it does not seem all that logical. Then again, we are talking Tom Sawyer, the boy with a never ending imaginationnot to mention Huck Finn. Twain, who grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River, claims he wrote by referencing people or combinations of people he knew. Now, we are fortunate to receive playwright Eason's spin on small town life a couple of centuries ago.
The magical part of an inspired, eager, lively production like this one relies a great deal upon the creative team's individual and collective imagination. Hartford Stage commissioned Laura Eason to work with the fiction and move it to her page. Jeremy Cohen enters, interprets further, brings in some obviously talented actors and designers. This production pretty much leaps forward to those sitting in the first rows of seats in the house.
Problems with the show? It loses zip about twenty minutes before intermission. As mentioned earlier, the concluding moments of the second act are festive, but the presentation is suddenly over. These are fairly minor quibbles. For the most part, this Tom Sawyer is bright and breezy.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer continues at Hartford Stage through May 9th. For ticket information, call the box office at (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.
- Fred Sokol