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ArlingtonSpirited cast adds oomph to Encore's 'Treasure Island'

Spirited cast adds oomph to Encore’s ‘Treasure Island’

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“Adventure can be good or bad. Sometimes you don’t know which – you have to make the best of it.” – From the show

by MATT REVILLE, Staff Writer

Six years after last presenting a local adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson adventure tale “Treasure Island,” Encore Stage & Studio is back with a reprise.

The good news? It’s an enjoyable outing that puts relatively equal emphasis on adventure and comedy; has some nice life lessons (mercifully offered without ramming them down anyone’s throats); and serves up some engaging performances to go with a surprise-within-a-surprise ending.

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The bad news? A first-weekend matinee seemed a tad, well, the words “ragged” and “chaotic” are found scribbled in my notebook. Nothing that’s not fixable, but coupled with a theater facility that was a tad on the chilly side, meant the thespians had to overcome some hurdles to win the hearts of the audience.

This adaptation follows Jemma, a young tavern wench (that’s how it is described in the playbill, so don’t get on my case) who through a succession of circumstances finds herself, dressed and acting as a cabin boy, on a ship that’s set sail in search of a treasure trove only to be taken over by pirates – all the while being shadowed by a “borrowed” ship crewed by an all-female contingent mad that they’d been left out of taking part in the adventure in the first place.

“These men think we’re inferior,” one of them snarls. “It’s an insult to us that needs to be challenged!” (And so it was.)

Lots of good performances, starting with Maddy Sadler as Jemma, who offers up just the right amount of pluck and spunk to fit the role.

Kira Kettler is solid as chief antagonist Long John Silver, aided and abetted by Abigail Houle portraying a seafaring sidekick who, because of a bump on the head some years back, believes he’s a parrot (and serves as something between a Greek chorus and a medieval king’s fool as the plot unfolds).

Colin Lee chews the scenery with cheerful abandon as the aristocrat who finances the expedition to find the treasure, accompanied by his own sidekick (Liam Riedelbach-Armer as the physician).

Juli Walitt is the ship’s captain who ends up at the mercy of pirates after they drop over the side the second-in-command (portrayed by Spencer Tilock, effective as a take-no-guff martinet attempting to enforce order upon the crew). That’s effectively the only death in the show and effectively is done for laughs; Stevenson’s original novel, aimed exclusively at young boys, by contrast, has gory murders throughout.

Lucy McBride is Billy Bones, the aged one-time adventurer who knows the location of the buried treasure but not, exactly, what will be found. And in terms of making the most of an brief appearance, Gabby Wilson is fun early in the show as a blind seafarer; Wilson returns later in another role.

The production is ably directed by Susan Alison Keady based on the adaptation by Matthew Heap (who also provided musical composition). Also deserving of some kudos on the creative team: James Clancy (fight director), Debra Leonard (costumes and make-up), Kristen Jepperson (set design and build) and Gary Hauptman (lighting).

It is advertised at 90 minutes, but counting a slightly delayed start followed by a first-weekend sluggishness, already had ticked off 86 minutes as the lights went down for the second act. A second act that tied up loose ends and came to the conclusion briskly, to be fair.

I can’t recall if I suggested this in my review of the 2016 rendition (and am too much a lazy-bones to go back and check), but to me it seems this “Treasure Island” would be more effective as slightly tightened up, one-act production.

That’s not how Encore “rolls,” so to speak, as it likes its 15-minute intermissions, but (again, just to me) it appears as if the first act drags things out a little bit and then the second act is a sprint to a conclusion.

Why not combine the two parts into one taut, seamless one-act? Or at least rejigger that point at which intermission arrives, to balance out the two acts.

• • •

“Treasure Island” continues through Oct. 23 at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre in Arrrrrrrr-lington. (A little pirate humor for those of you still with me.) For tickets and information, see the Website at www.encorestage.org.

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