And what you say about his company…
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
An all-American play, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer takes on repressive rules and community standards (tempered with love and good humor), deception, violence (including, but not limited to, some off-stage grave-robbing and a dead cat with which to cure warts), and a crash-course in class and race. Fortunately for theater-goers, Center Stage Productions’ take on the young rapscallion doesn’t leave out the funny.
A complex set makes for some unplanned entertainment during the numerous scene changes. Even though set pieces are on wheels, they’re obviously very heavy, and the entire cast gets a workout moving them around. The detailed sets are fun to look at, but their sheer size dwarfs the Studio Theatre’s stage and unnecessarily inhibits the action sequences in the play.
And there is plenty of action.
As the irrepressible Tom Sawyer, young Matthew Taul compensates for a rough accent (and please, someone, tell these kids that the play’s set in Missouri, not Mississippi) with incredible style. Taul combines the innocence of boyhood with the wiles of a born politician to do justice to the role. He’s got a raspy voice, an angel’s face and an attitude that fairly bursts, from his sly grin to his perpetually moving eyebrows. Taul makes it easy to work up some pity for the schoolteacher—and we do.
The adult actors bring a touch of verisimilitude to the action. Roscoe’s turn as Injun Joe (a role far more complicated now than even a few decades ago) is frightening in its intensity. His sensitivity to insult—which reveals fully the differences in class and race—makes some sense of his rage, but Injun Joe remains the boogey-man of the tale.
As the face of civilization, the adult women (Isabel Siragusa as Tom’s Aunt Polly, Melissa Rae Frago as the stern-but-loving Widow Douglas, and Athena Bergen as Mrs. Thatcher) are called upon to temper both rules and violence with tenderness. But the most intriguing of sub-plots is ably portrayed by Zach Wiedenhoeft as Walter Potter and Brandon Johnson as his besotted father, Muff. Both bring depth to roles that could easily be stereotyped.
In spite of the fence-painting, prank-pulling, pirating fun that makes us remember Tom Sawyer as a children’s story, the plot hinges on ethics and morality. It’s probably both too complicated and too intense for younger children, but for ’tweens, teens and parents, it’s bound to be both entertaining and enlightening.