By DAVE DeLUCA - For the Star Beacon
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.”
The entire cast performed well, especially Louis Ruane as Tom Sawyer, and 11 year-old Joseph Damore as Huckleberry Finn. Tom Sawyer’s tattletale half brother Sid Sawyer was well played by Samson Ruane. Kirana Rogers did an excellent job of portraying Tom Sawyer’s heartthrob Becky Thatcher. Joe Harper was well portrayed by 3rd-grade student Dennis Dixon III. Much of the cast is under 16 years old.
The adults also did a fine job of rendering this American classic. Tom’s Aunt Polly was portrayed with lots of humor by Ave Warren-Perts, and that goes for Marti Milliken-Dixon as the Widow Douglas. The cast also included excellent performances by Mary Fetsko as Mary Rogers, Maximillian Ruane as Walter Potter, Lucy Ruane as Amy Lawrence, Eric Reisterer as Injun Joe, Sara Perts as Sereny Harper and Sher Kanieski as Mrs. Thatcher.
The play was performed on one set, Aunt Polly’s parlor, which set up the action well enough. Some video clips were used to show Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as pirates, and this added to the entertainment value as a break from the single set. Great period costumes were provided by Sara Perts.
This play is worth seeing not just because it does a fine job of extrapolating Mark Twain’s classic of life along the Mississippi River, but because it showcases young talent at its best. It’s fun to see so many youngsters ‘break a leg’ and actually do justice to Braun’s adaptation of “Tom Sawyer.”
The Harbor Playhouse Theatrical Playhouse Co-op is located at 341 Lake Ave. This weekend is the last time “Tom Sawyer” will be shown. It runs from today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
The next Harbor Theatrical Playhouse Co-op play is Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” beginning in August. Open mic nights at the Playhouse are scheduled for May 11.