Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Regional Reviews

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Albuquerque Little Theatre

Sef Garcia
Mark Twain called his novel "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" a 'hymn to boyhood.' The story takes place in a small Missouri town close to the Mississippi River. While Twain's other novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," has received greater critical acclaim—partly because Huck's story addresses racism directly—Tom's adventures still make up a beloved American story. Think Tom as Paul McCartney and Huck as John Lennon. It's easy to love Tom.

Tom's adventures have appeared in countless plays and movies. The adaption by Timothy Mason is fairly recent; this is one of the first productions by a professional theatre. It stays very close to the novel, presenting most of the important plot turns and twists, including the famous painting of the white picket fence—"Hey, painting a fence is fun!"

All of your favorite characters are here, including Tom, Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher, the endlessly patient Aunt Polly, Jim, and the diabolical Injun Joe. The center of the story is the moral dilemma Tom and Huck face when they witness Injun Joe murdering Dr. Robinson. Injun Joe frames town-drunk Muff Potter, but Tom and Huck know better. Most of the story plays out their guilt about letting Potter go to jail strained against their fear of Injun Joe. Along the way, we watch Tom get in and out of trouble while struggling to court Becky, often at great self sacrifice.

One of the welcome twists in Mason's adaptation is his addition of the character of Mark Twain as a narrator, much in the vein of the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Ken Ehrhart delivers the role with folksy excellence—though he does need a more realistic mustache. The Twain character comments on the action as it occurs and gives it a wonderfully Missouri feel, even while remaining ever ironic. In a fun bonus, the Twain character performs duties as the defense attorney in Mutt Potter's trial.

While Mason's prescription for the play offers a trimmed-down cast, Wilgus has gone all out, filling the stage with a large number of kids who take on singing as well as acting chores. The Americana songs performed by the kids deepen the sense of place. Plus, the singing is beautiful. The adult characters are uniformly strong, from Injun Joe (a physically intimidating Stephen L. Balling) to Muff Potter (a woozy Jeff Hudson) and strict-with-a-heart Aunt Polly (Andrea Guyton Lill).

The real stars of this production are the kids. Sef Garcia (a flying monkey in The Wizard of Oz) is wonderful as Tom. He is able to span Tom's personality range, from mischievous rascal to nervous lover, to a good kid who struggles to do the right thing—at a potentially great cost. Standouts include Stephen Jason Lambros as Huck, Annette Johnson as Becky Thatcher, and Andrew Morris as Joe Harper.

The set is a single large and versatile contraption that serves as school room, courtroom, graveyard, even a river raft. The versatility keeps downtime to a minimum, which has the story moving quickly—a blessing for the young audience. Kudos to set designer Joshua Bien. Also, nice job by Lila Martinez as costume designer, Patricia Hobbs Goodson with lighting, and Mark Balistreri as stage manager. This production is part of Albuquerque Little Theatre's family series. It is a great choice for moms, pops and kids.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, directed by Warren Asa Wilgus, is Timothy Mason's adaption of Mark Twain's novel. The production runs at the Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, through September 18. The play is rated G. Performances run Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2 pm. General admission for ages 13 and above is $15. Tickets for children under 13 are $10. For more information, visit For reservations, call 505-242-4750, ex. 2.

--Rob Spiegel

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