Play: Treasure Island
Group: St. Louis Shakespeare
Venue: Missouri History Museum
Dates: Show has completed run
Story: It’s adventure on the high seas as young Jim Hawkins, son of the proprietors of the Admiral Benbow Inn in England, learns of a buried treasure on a distant island in the dying words of itinerant lodger Captain Billy Bones. Bones is given the infamous ‘black spot’ of pirates by the insidious Blind Pew, which causes him to have a stroke. Jim tells the naïve Squire Trelawney about the treasure, and joins the crew hired by Trelawney in pursuit of the bounty, accompanied by the righteous Dr. Livesey, trustworthy Captain Smollett and the nefarious Long John Silver, who says he has reformed from his days in the crew of the infamous pirate, Captain Flint, who buried the booty. But has he really?
Highlights: Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th century novel about pirate maps, buried treasure and rum-swilling rapscallions has been a popular fixture in children’s literature for 125 years. It’s been adapted into more than 50 movies, TV shows and plays and is the antecedent of such modern-day adventures as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the movie megahit with Johnny Depp as the charming rogue, Captain Jack Sparrow.
St. Louis Shakespeare recently mounted its own production that was highlighted by a rousingly inspired performance by Tom Kopp, who captured the theatricality of the engaging scoundrel, Long John Silver, without capitulating to melodrama or lampooning. Kopp brought both guile and cunning to the part of the one –legged, parrot-toting brigand in a portrayal entertaining for kids and adults alike. Additionally, Roger Erb infused his role of the deadly scoundrel Israel Hands with a fully engaged interpretation, from his scraggly hair and scruffy appearance to his guttural pronouncements of “Sir” in mock respect to the dutiful Captain Smollett. Both portrayals offered grand adventure that captured the essence of this enduring story.
Other Info: Director Jerry Vogel maintained the focus on Stevenson’s work as geared toward the younger set, but the show’s pace was far too languid, consuming more than two hours in a version that stalled more often than sailed smoothly. He did benefit from a rousing sound design by Jeff Roberts that filled the Lee Auditorium at the Missouri History Museum with seafaring sounds. There also was an atmospheric, nautical set designed by Christie Johnston with sail-like sheets in the background and a pair of performing areas that served as ships as well as castaway Ben Gunn’s island sanctuary, all handsomely lit by Sean Savoie. And Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes added an appropriately naval look to the proceedings, from the dapper uniforms of the good guys to the swarthy stylings of the pirates.
Emily Jackoway had a grand time as the spirited Jim Hawkins, while Aaron Orion Baker added his customary judicious touches to the nasty Blind Pew as well as the addled Ben Gunn. Tyler Vickers was roguish if a bit too clean-cut in appearance as Black Dog, Todd Pieper was the proper Dr. Livesey, Charlie Heuvelman the intrepid Squire Trelawney, Ben Ritchie the sober Captain Smollett and Paul Devine the tortured alcoholic, Billy Bones. The supporting cast included Donna Postel as Mrs. Hawkins, Curran Bajwa, Jaime Zayas, Joshua Abel, Ted Drury, James Canfield, David Lane, Aaron Dodd and Ethan Jones.
Treasure Island is a good choice for the Missouri History Museum series, but this rendition never quite got its bearings sufficiently, despite a few stirring performances.
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.