Reviewed by Fiona Bessey-Bushnell
Treasure Island the play, written by Paul Deiss and based on the classic novel of the same name by Robert Lewis Stevenson, is an action-packed adventure. I grew up with the classic book and Virginia Rep’s production delivers on the adventure it was meant to be.
The show begins with the boisterous cast singing the familiar lyrics, “Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum…” or Dead Man’s Chest, in the innkeeper’s tavern. Once the infamous treasure map is found, the story begins to unfold, as the crew heads to Treasure Island in search of the loot.
Pirate life must be fun to portray – it was easy to see that the actors absolutely loved their roles. The actors were passionate, intense, and sometimes funny. My 7-year-old whispered, “See? I told you they were real pirates! Duh!” Real indeed. Set changes, transitions, and costume changes were flawless. That is quite a feat, considering each actor played at least two roles, and sometimes as many as four! In the intimate Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn, audience members experience a show as a much bigger production than it really is. At some point in this one, I felt certain that several pirates (I mean, actors) were looking directly at me.
Alexander Sapp plays the innkeeper’s son, Jim Hawkins, a young boy in this coming-of-age story. Early on, Jim dreams of being captain of a seafaring vessel, and as the story unfolds, he becomes an integral member of the crew, quietly emerging as a leader. In the show, Sapp also takes on the role of narrator and gets a chance to show off a beautiful voice during musical numbers.
Charley Raintree (Israel/Smollett/Ben Gunn/Tavern Guest) is convincing in his various roles, however, his portrayal of the marooned Ben Gunn is unparalleled. Everything about Gunn, from his tattered and soiled clothing, semi-wild expressions and behavior, to the way he walks is consistent with a realistic portrayal of someone stranded on a desert island.
The repartee between Charley Raintree and Alexander Sapp was a delight. Evan Nasteff as Pew, Dick, Pirate, and Guest brought comic relief, particularly during some of the more intense scenes.
The talented Jahred King (as Mr. Clark and Doctor) was a mainstay in most scenes, and Paul S. Major (as Mr. Lewis, Squire, and Tom) was particularly believable as a fancy-pants Squire among a less refined crew.
The only female actor in the production, Hannah Zold (Mother and Cutlett), was nurturing in her role as Jim’s mother, but was also featured as Cutlett, a pirate. The costuming was so realistic, you may not even notice that this bearded pirate is a woman, as nobody else in my crew noticed her disguise.
Landon Nagal (Billy Bones and Long John Silver) shined like a gold doubloon in both roles. As Long John Silver, his sweet demeanor one moment, shifting to dastardly ways in the next, was as double-edged as the sword he wielded.
Finally, the play comes full circle as Sapp’s character, Jim has grown from young boy into a man as the captain’s hat is bestowed upon him for his heroic efforts on the voyage.
Paul Deiss, was able to weave this classic together for an hour-long production. Directed by John Moon, this tale truly came to life.
Children ages 6 and up will love this fast paced story. However, there were a few scenes that were frightening for the younger set, including extremely loud claps of thunder, which made the entire audience jump.
Treasure Island runs through April 19 at the Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn. Recommended for ages six and up. For showtimes and tickets, visit Virginia Rep’s Treasure Island.