The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Wrap-up of Dorset Theater Festival
By: Thomas Dyer - Sep 13, 2015
The Dorset Theater Festival successfully closed out its season with Laura Eason’s adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, directed by Kirk Jackson. Joey Sarno provided a simple scenic design consisting of a ripped linen backdrop hung asymmetrically over the stage which effectively symbolized the evening mist, the spiderwebs of a haunted house or the thick Spanish moss sheltering a swimming hole.
The only set pieces were a few reeds in tin pots, benches and rolling sections of fence which were introduced in a whimsically choreographed scene when Tom becomes smitten with Becky Thatcher, all accompanied on fiddle by the game Rainjana Haynes. Without the narration of Mark Twain, the vignettes of Tom’s adventures could have appeared as separate islands floating in a stream, but Haynes' lively accompaniment did much to bridge the gaps and paint a richer texture for the audience.
Although the script itself proves a bit clunky at times and the coming of age story is linear and one-dimensional, the play was well produced and well-acted by a talented troupe of eight who skillfully played multiple roles throughout the evening. Jackson did well to cast it with older actors as it exaggerated the comedy inherent in the ridiculous follies of children when they play, fight and fall in love.
Nick DiLeonardi embodied Tom Sawyer well with the right amount of hubris, salt and good intentions that kept the audience rooting for him even when he was up to the most trouble. Andrew Duff provided a steady sideman as Tom’s cohort, Huck Finn, although at times he rushed his lines and never quite mastered the subtlety of the Missouri dialect. Evangeline Neuhart played an endearing and refreshingly scrappy Becky Thatcher. Sean Patrick O’Brien expertly imbued Sid Sawyer with an annoying juvenile snottiness, although I could have perhaps used less of that signature attitude in his other roles. Matthew McFadden’s Joe Harper was full of youthful energy and when he wanted to play “graveyard murder” I felt a long lost thrill resurge from my own childhood for a minute. Doug Ryan played several divergent adult characters with equal skill, easily moving between the frazzled school master, the forgiving reverend and the bitter and conniving Injun Joe. Kim Johnson Turner’s every breath brought a smile to my face as the solicitous Aunt Polly, and Cody Sullivan had a stellar attention to detail in all of his characters be it the ill-used town drunk with the shaking hands or the gawking school boy with the bugeyes.
The performance ran without an intermission and the energy remained high for both the performers and for the enchanted audience. We were left with a nostalgic summation speech given by Ms. Turner (in paraphrase): with stories of children you end it where you can so that you can keep on dreaming of what else there is to come.
Take this as appropriate metaphor for the DTF season as a whole: there is no great moment here that will tie all of the good work done this summer together, and how does one decide where best to stop in this fantastic celebration of theater? We must end as the seasons change, but I look forward to rejoining our friends at this festival next summer to see how we all have grown. Congratulations all on a job well done.