ASHTABULA — Few novels have been adapted for the stage as many times and different ways as Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer.”
Published in 1876, this American classic takes a droll, sometimes disapproving, look at life in southern Missouri through the eyes of a mischievous pre-teen boy. It was adapted to a stage play script for children and teens not long after, and more recently as a musical.
The two-act, four-scene version of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” presented by the Harbor Playhouse Theatrical Co-op, is a stage adaptation by William Braun. The production is fun and has lots of energy. The cast is mostly young talent. Despite the 19th century social and cultural references, it’s funny without needing translation, and the characters all play their parts with complete conviction. What’s even better is watching them hit their marks and deliver long-winded lines without a glitch.
In Twain’s own words, “Tom Sawyer is not a boys’ book.” Although often scripted for child actors and young audiences, there’s still plenty of black humor and satire. In fact, the ‘Aunt Polly’ character is addicted to over-the-counter pain medication and the ‘Tom Sawyer’ character is a truant, con artist and nuisance.
Mark Pendleton, director of the Harbor Playhouse Theatrical Co-op production of “Tom Sawyer,” said there are at least 10 different scripts being performed now, and each has a different slant on how to be faithful to Twain’s vision of antebellum St..Petersburg, Mo., life.
“It’s hard to beat Mark Twain’s material, and the kids were really fun to work with,” he said.
Pendleton said the young cast needed to learn to relate to the context of the era, so he had them read the book.
“They did a great job of understanding the characters,” he said. “And they didn’t break character or lose the southern accent.”