Chicago Theatre Review
The Cabin Boy’s Tale
Treasure Island – Lookingglass Theatre
Shiver me timbers and avast, me hearties! Lend your ear to an adventurous tale of hornswaggling on the high seas. Tis a coming-of-age story about a young lad plunged into piracy, pillaging and the plundering of booty in the Caribbean during the mid-eighteenth century. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel about buccaneers and buried treasure, originally serialized in magazine form, has been given a new, story theatre treatment in Mary Zimmerman’s latest adaptation for the stage. Following their success with “Moby Dick,” another literary classic set aboard the high seas, Lookingglass Theatre has another exciting hit plowing the waves of their Water Tower theater.
The accomplished Scottish author of Kidnapped and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wrote this tale of adventure for his younger readers, but Ms. Zimmerman’s production, which she also directs with her usual flair and finesse, is a rousing theatrical piece that will appeal to all ages. Audiences have come to expect stunningly visual, physically challenging productions from both the playwright and this wonderful theatre company. They won’t be disappointed with Zimmerman’s premiere, which is the opening of Lookingglass Theatre’s 28th season. The stage literally rocks with excitement and the air is ablaze with the crash of ocean waves, the screaming gulls and the explosions of canon fire. The metallic clanking of swords and sudden bursts from the blunderbuss pierce the air, amid the shouting and cheering of the rowdy crew of pirates. Known for its colorful characters, charged atmosphere and unstoppable action, Ms. Zimmerman’s production is a force of life. It’s a show that’s captivating and dynamic, filled with rugged, red-blooded heroes and villains that audiences will long remember.
As exciting as Ms. Zimmerman’s script and direction are the many contributions provided by her artistic team. Todd Rosenthal’s alley-style setting, collaboratively enhanced by TJ Gerkins’ sparkling lighting, Andre Pluess’ sound and musical composition and Ana Kuzmanic’s authentic-looking costumes, immediately plunge spectators into the story. The play opens at the Admiral Benbow Inn, but it seamlessly moves aboard Squire Trelawney’s good ship Hispaniola and eventually to the titular archipelago.
The cast, many of whom play multiple roles, is as talented as they are versatile. Impeccably talented young John Babbo plays the story’s narrator and main character, Jim Hawkins, with power and command. This actor’s commitment and intensity, as well as his spot-on command of British dialect, could serve as a model for other actors. He immediately draws his audience into this story of exploit and endangerment and holds them tightly until the very end. Matt DeCaro is delightful as aristocratic Squire Trelawney, the local dignitary who, upon learning of Jim Hawkins’ newly-discovered treasure map, purchases a schooner and invites Jim to be his cabin boy. He commissions local physician and friend, Dr. Livesey, played with dignity and decorum by Andrew White, to be the ship’s doctor; and he employs a disagreeable Captain Smollett, the very commanding Philip R. Smith, to sail his ship.
The ship’s one-legged cook, Long John Silver, is played with delicious flair and gusto, by Lawrence E. DiStasi. With his talking parrot perched upon his shoulder (a wondrous, animated creation by the talented Blair Thomas), this amoral pirate ultimately reveals his true colors as he kills everyone in his way, leading the mutiny of the Hispaniola. Steve Pickering, so deliciously dastardly as the scoundrel Black Dog, is just as humorous and spritely as the half-crazed marooned sailor, Ben Gunn. Kasey Foster delivers up maternal fortitude and buccaneer bravery, both as Jim’s mother and as a musical pirate (along with the always awesome fiddler, Greg Hirte, and talented actor/musicians Matthew Yee and L.J. Slavin). The terrific Christopher Donahue makes a belligerent Billy Bones but is just as enjoyable as the fastidious Mr. Redruth. The rest of this talented crew is comprised of Travis Delgado as Dick, Anthony Irons as Pew and Ariel Shafir as Israel Hands. Their ensemble work is as impressive as it is stellar.
With a whiff of gunpowder and testosterone filling the salty air, Mary Zimmerman’s imaginative, magical new adaptation is solidly directed here with creativity and assurance. Supported by a terrific team of artistic collaborators, Ms. Zimmerman’s brisk, bouncy, buoyant ballad of buccaneers and booty makes for an exciting, not-to-be-missed coming-of-age tale about a brave young cabin boy with an exciting story to share.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 7-January 31 by Lookingglass Theatre at the Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 312-337-0665 or by going to www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.