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By Fran Syverson
Ahh, childhood! Memories of our sweet (and sometimes devilish!) childhoods! And while most of us didn’t have childhoods to compare with Tom Sawyer’s, many of us do recall reading of his adventures and imagining ourselves right there with him and his sidekick, Huckleberry Finn.
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” can be revisited when they come alive on the Sierra Madre Playhouse stage. It’s their light summer fare planned with earlier hours to entice “family-friendly” theatrical outings.
Pre-curtain, musicians wander the foyer, entertaining patrons with homespun music. When the actors romp onto the stage, they bring the exuberance of youth and lively tunes played on a washboard, a bottle, fiddles, a harmonica and castanets. Straw hats, gingham skirts, jeans and suspenders, large hair ribbons-oh, we know we’re back in the 1840s of Mark Twain’s youth, all right!
A certain suspension of credulity is required, since the actors are full-sized adults. Costumes and antics help us past that hurdle, and we can visualize them as the ‘tween-agers of the story.
Those who have read the book will recognize incidents and characters-Tom’s and Becky’s first-love romance, whitewashing the fence (cleverly staged), Injun Joe, the murder seen by the boys, playing pirates, attending his own funeral, hunting for treasure, getting trapped in a dark cave….Doesn’t this just make you want to revisit Tom and all his adventures?? Youngsters who’ve not yet read the tale will enjoy the wit and drama in their first brush with Mark Twain’s fabulous storytelling.
The actors are consistently good, many of them playing two or three roles. Mike Rosenbaum conveys both Tom’s mischievous and good-hearted sides, his crush on Becky, and his growing conscience. Sierra Campbell-Unsoeld as pretty Becky Thatcher travels with ease between being flirty and pouty with Tom.
Huck as played by Jason Thomas is the ideal pal for Tom. Hank Doughan is lively as Joe Harper, the third young scalawag. Moreover, he’s the trial’s defense lawyer and the crime accomplice. Also carrying three diverse roles competently is Brandon Karrer as Injun Joe, the minister, and schoolmaster Dobins. Likewise, Cameron Miller as disagreeable stepbrother Sid, and both Doc Robinson and the prosecutor.
Jeff Doba plays the hapless Muff Potter and also the widow’s brother. The Widow Douglas is Katie Hotchkiss and Tom’s Aunt Polly.
We’re scarcely aware of Jennifer Zahlit’s violin music, so well does it set the mood and ambience. She is a background presence throughout the entire story, and also acts as a townsperson. Sometimes Jeff Doba joins in.
Laura Eason adapted the play from Twain’s book. Aaron Lyons directs the Playhouse production, for which Estelle Campbell and Christian Lebano are producers. Cody Clark is stage manager, with Annalise Lowery and Claire Shaffer assistants. House manager is Tim Orona. Maura Reinhart is lighting designer. Sara Gray debuts at SMP as costume designer. The set is basically a wooden hill, thanks to Dan Bergmann’s carpentry.
Although considered a “family-friendly” show, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” is recommended for ages 7 years and up. It will continue at the Sierra Madre Playhouse weekends through Sept. 7. Please note that curtain times have been arranged also to be “family-friendly.” They are 7 p.m. Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays, and 11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $25 general, $22 for seniors (65+) and students (13-17), and $15 for children 12 and under.
The Sierra Madre Playhouse is located at 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. City lots offer free parking. For ticket reservations or more information, phone (626) 355-4318, or visit the website, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org, for online ticketing. For reservations for groups of 15 or more, phone (626) 836-2125.