Last night we went to see a production of “Treasure Island” at the Irondale Theater out in Brooklyn. This was partly due to our friend and former sitter Andrea being in town ( she is a stage manager by profession and it is always more fun to see plays with her), and partly due to the fact that we’d heard good things about it from our friends.
Let me just say up front that although I love the story of Treasure Island, I am not a great fan of Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing style. Which made me even more excited to see the play because in a play, as in a movie , there is an opportunity to visually distill the story into its’ essence, even if this means combining some characters, dropping others altogether, shortening the time line – whatever. John Irving speaks about this at length in his book, “My Movie Business” which primarily deals with his screenplay of his novel The Cider House Rules”. He even says that the people who didn’t like the book are probably the ones who will love the film because much of the crudity that turned people off in the book is gone in the film; nevertheless, the essence remains. (I liked both the book and the movie but my best friend Tina could never get over the fact that the entire first chapter of the book isn’t in the film at all.)
So, to Treasure Island. Great cast, led by Tom Hewitt as Long John Silver. All of the actors were good and did their best. But by the middle of the first act, Ben was asleep. Ben who loves pirates and sword fighting. I kept looking at my watch. We’d heard great things about the live parrot, but all I could think about was why they’d bothered to have a real parrot on stage at all, because his presence was completely superfluous to the story and he didn’t talk. Long John Silver ‘spoke’ for him. It was as though the guy who wrote the script was so in love with the book that he had to have every spoken word lifted straight from Stevenson’s text. But if I’d wanted to hear Jim Hawkins stand on the ship’s bow and narrate the story, I could’ve just re-read the book.
The set was also a problem. There were cleverly built pieces that moved around on wheels, and the cast spent much of the play moving them from one place to another on the stage, but until someone said, “Oh, here we are at the stockade!” or something to that effect, the configuration of the set pieces gave no indication of the setting of the story. They would have been better served acting on a generic stage, and bringing in a palm tree when they were on the island, a ships’ wheel when they were on board the Hispaniola, etc.
None of us enjoyed ourselves. Maya and Ben were exhausted by the end. Andrea was completely distracted by the weird set pieces and the fact that the gunshots were so loud and no one in the cast was wearing earplugs (which she said would never be allowed if the people at Equity- the stage actor’s union – got wind of it and came to see the show). She and I agreed that there was far too much talking about things instead of showing us the action.
It was disappointing to see a show for which we had high expectations and then dislike it so much. Especially since everyone else we know who has seen it loved it. The kids and I talked about this, spending some time discussing how people have different tastes and how sometimes it’s good to see things even if you wind up not liking it that much, etc. etc. I wasn’t convinced, but maybe they were. Hey, live and learn, right?
I’d love to see a great adaptation of Treasure Island. I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer.