nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
March 2, 2011
Swashbuckling sword fights, drunk brawling pirates, fire blazing muskets, powder packed pistols, a live parrot, a cappella sea chanteys sung in rollicking harmony, and a darn good seafarin’ yarn—these are among the many delights of the current incarnation of the stage adaptation by B.H. Barry and Vernon Morris of the classic tale by Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island. Producer/director Barry has given us an inventive entertainment that is worth seeing out at Brooklyn’s Irondale Center, just a short walk from BAM.
Set designer Tony Straiges has transformed the Irondale space into a marvelous piratical playing area, complete with towering mast, crow's nest, lanyards, halyards, sails, barrels, and ingenious stage wagons that configure and re-configure as a tavern, the ship Hispaniola, docks, row boats, and forts, among other locations. How all this got into the space is a marvel crying out for special accolades to the load-in crew—there is no loading dock; everything has to come in via flights of stairs!
Stewart Wagner has designed impressive lights using an array of equipment and a lighting package worthy of Broadway. Truthfully, one just does not expect lightning strikes to be this well done so many miles from the Great White Way. (Okay, BAM excluded.) The sound equipment as well is high caliber and Will Pickens makes full use of it with a gut-thundering realistic design. Detailed props by Jim Balzaretti and special effects and pyrotechnics by Gregory Meeh add wonderfully to the buccaneer ambience. All this is supported by nicely appropriate period costumes designed by Luke Brown.
The story is a simple tale, narrated by its main character, young Jim Hawkins (Noah E. Galvin). Hawkins works at the family tavern near Bristol, England, where a particularly sodden character has remained in residence. This man, Billy Bones (John Ahlin), has a rum-soaked secret—he once was the mate on a pirate ship captained by the notorious Captain Flint (Rod Brogan). Flint hid a considerable treasure on an island in the Caribbean (something shown as a clever prologue where we see first hand that “dead men tell no tales”), but now Flint’s dead, and the map is in the hands of Mr. Bones. Some other of Flint’s old crew come calling at the tavern. There ensues lots of fighting, rum drinking, and finally the untimely expiration of Bones. Jim finds the treasure map, the local official Squire Trelawney (Kenneth Tigar) finds out, an expedition to find the treasure is undertaken by the Squire, the local doctor (Rocco Sisto) and a rabble of sailors contracted by the Squire to man his ship the Hispaniola. Among these seamen is a one-legged cook called Long John Silver (Tom Hewitt) whose companion is an old parrot (Maui). Young Hawkins gets to go along, the voyage being captained by an honest Scotsman, Captain Smollett (Steve Blanchard). What ensues is mutiny, mayhem, marauding, and marooning as the good guys and the bad guys battle for discovery of Flint’s treasure. What also happens is an unlikely friendship between Jim and that nefarious cook Silver, who turns out to have been the quartermaster on Flint’s old crew and who is the real leader of the pirates searching for the treasure. It is all great fun and enthralling from start to climax, the latter of which will not be revealed here.
The cast of thirteen men and one parrot look to be having the time of their lives performing this buccaneer tale with joyous panache. Hewitt is marvelous as the true embodiment of Silver, a real aargh of a pirate but with a sentimental side. And how he bears trussing up one of his legs so it looks cut off is high legerdemain indeed. (Perhaps I should call it “sleight-of-foot?”) Galvin holds the story together well as Jim and his youthful athletic charm is perfect for the role. Blanchard exudes truth and honor as Captain Smollett. Ahlin is raucously rum-soaked as Bones. Tigar and Sisto lend appropriate gravitas. Heck, the entire cast is very very good! Ken Schatz deserve extra mention, not only ably assuming three roles including Mrs. Hawkins, but serving as music director and lead singer for those authentic chanteys that add nicely to the ambience.
As many readers may know, B.H. Barry is a world renowned fight director. So naturally, all the combat, swordplay, and gun fights in Treasure Island are superlative. As a stage director, Barry for the most part does well, too. He fully utilizes the set in nicely transformative ways—for instance the creation of the ship Hispaniola before our eyes is quite wondrous. It’s the few quiet moments where he falls a little short. The moments between Silver and Hawkins could breathe a little more—this relationship is, after all, at the very core of the story. Barry also unfortunately has staged an important moment near the end between these two in a way that many of the audience could not see either actor. A quibble that may even now have been corrected, but an annoying one nonetheless.
As to the adaptation, Barry and Morris have given us a fine theatrical rendition of a genre that has played so effectively of late in cinema and theme parks. I do think, however, that a few judicious cuts could be made in scenes where points are repeatedly made. This whirlwind of a yarn should really only pause for those aforementioned moments between the improbable friends Silver and Hawkins.
This production, as I have alluded, seems almost too grand in scale for the environs of the Irondale space. Clearly a lot of real doubloons have gone into this production Yes, it works, but it also serves to whet our appetite for more. I hope this show has legs beyond its run in Brooklyn. The whole package is Broadway caliber. Let’s hope more treasure comes this company’s way. I came away from this incarnation happily fulfilled but also wondering what this team would do with just a percentage of what is currently being put to waste in Mid-Manhattan.