Just when is it appropriate to modernize or reshape a classic text? Should a grace period of, say, a century, be considered? Does the author have to be deceased? Or should the suitability be weighed by more idiosyncratic rationales, such as the creative insertion of the exclamation, "Goddamn Muppets!" into the original text?
Yes, God save Art Director Murray Ross and the TheatreWorks cast who so ingeniously managed to blaspheme the Muppets in their extensively poetically licensed stage production of Treasure Island. (And, to answer my first question: Any time, as long as you add and delete with tact, humility and a sense of humor).
Robert Louis Stevenson would surely be proud of the enduring legacy of Treasure Island and the many forms it has come to embody over the years.
And in all fairness, even Kermit and the gang didn't do such a bad job with their version of the beloved sea tale. The pirate saga maintains a narrative elasticity that makes for timeless translation; the adventurous thematic qualities most always come out in the wash. TheatreWorks' fine cast relates young Jim Hawkins' rite-of-passage in a potentially controversial manner while staying true to the heart of Stevenson's vision.
Our altered chronicle takes place in contemporary time, in the studio of N.C. Wyeth, the artist responsible for the 1911 Scribner edition illustrations of Treasure Island. The premise is that current curators and Treasure Island enthusiasts have a chance to obtain another original Wyeth painting for their collection by fulfilling the contractual obligations laid out by their benefactor. Those obligations essentially require a naive young boy (who's not familiar with the classic tale) to improvise the role of Jim Hawkins in a staged performance one night out of each year.
What this creates for TheatreWorks audiences is a play within a play, including the occasional disorienting breakage of the fourth wall. All players resolve to stay in character once the fictitious Treasure Island re-enactment begins, but they add modern dialogue to guide young Hawkins and move the play along. This style helps abbreviate plot sequencing and overcomes vast technical difficulty in the staging of sea, ship and island. Pieces of the tale are wisely discarded while the vital scenes remain, and superb use of a single set and versatile props are to be commended.
Ross and crew flex the bulk of their liberty via the decision to cast the role of Jim Hawkins as Jane Hawkins, creating a female protagonist. This choice undoubtedly yields a unique adaptation, though it neither enriches nor sullies the story. Pointed fingers could scream that it's radical, while discerning eyes may cast a vote on the side of textual faithfulness; either way, overall integrity remains unbreached.
Cheers to Betty Ross' costume design, which pleasantly looks as if a grenade went off in a gypsy's closet. The brilliant, tattered rags accompany heartwarming pirate jargon and make for a highly entertaining evening. The production supports the All Pikes Peak Reads program and so should you -- haul your booty over to TheaterWorks for some unconventional pirate fun.
-- Matthew Schniper
Presented by TheatreWorks
Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Cragwood Drive (northwest corner of Union and Austin Bluffs)
Sept. 24 through Oct. 17; Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday matinees at 2 p.m., Sunday at 4 p.m.
Tickets $18-20; Group discounts available.
262-3232 or www.uccstheatreworks.com