Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 8, 2010

Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Hartford Stage,Hartford, CT
through April 1 - May 9, 2010
by Karolina Sadowicz

This year marks the centennial anniversary of Mark Twain's passing, and as part of ongoing celebrations in Hartford, Hartford Stage commissioned playwright Laura Eason to adapt Twain's novel about a boy full of mischief. The result is a modern, high-energy staging that swiftly presents the highlights from one of Twain's most beloved works.

A youthful (but adult) and exuberant cast breaks into dance as the lights turn bright, and as-yet-undefined characters take turns delivering some of Twain's narrative. The structure of this production is purposeful, with little time spent on exposition. Tom's (charming Tim McKiernan, in his professional acting debut) life and friendships are presented through quick, punchy vignettes so that the audience is promptly delivered to the heart of the story: a murder witnessed by Tom and Huck Finn (excellent Casey Predovic) in a graveyard, and the wrong man imprisoned. Tom and Huck struggle with what they witnessed, their own mischievous natures, and whether Tom's "engagement" to relentlessly adorable Becky Thatcher (Louisa Krause) will impede their future adventures.

A principal cast of eight carry off some 20 roles, with Teddy Canez convincingly playing the least likable characters: the schoolmaster, the minister, and the murderous Injun Joe. Nancy Lemenager is both hilarious and heartbreaking as Aunt Polly, and Erik Lochtefeld makes a woeful and endearing Muff Potter.

The spirited, kinetic acting is supported by a lively soundtrack and Daniel Ostling's superbly inventive set, which transforms with great effect from a schoolhouse, to a wheat field, to a jail cell, to a labyrinthine cave. Most set pieces are lowered from the ceiling to suggest changing settings. Some aspects of this stylized production don't quite fit the material. A nightmare sequence tests how much the book ought to be modernized, jarring the audience out of the moment. The swift pace is well kept, but sudden shifts between unrelated scenes leave a sense of substantial omissions.

Including Twain's narrative voice is a nice touch, and the playfulness of the original text is well conveyed. This creative, ambitious production reminds the audience what it is to play and seek adventure, just as it should.