Director - Joe Sturgeon
Production Stage Manager - Hans Meyer
Scene Design - Katie Dill
Costume Design - Tammy Spencer
Lighting Design - Samuel Rushen
Sound Design - Jonathan Parke
Wigs/Hair/Make-up Design - Catherine Petty-Rogers
Choreographer - Jeremy Dumont
Mr. Sprague / Injun Joe - Christopher J. Deaton
Aunt Polly / Miss Dobbins / Doc Robinson - Lisa Fairchild
Muff Potter - Maurice Johnson
Tom Sawyer - Clayton Slee
Huckleberry Finn - Tanner Schuldt
Becky Thatcher - Emma Colwell
Mary - Avery Presson
Amy - Reagan Shankland
Ben - Brandon Shreve
Joe - Samuel Ater
Sid - Westin Brown
Billy - Sam Sturgeon
Susan - Erin Patterson
Clara - Lauren Magee
Lorraine - Lauren Donoghue
Tagalong - Theodore Morris
Jeff - Logan Macauley
Reviewed Performance 10/12/2012
Reviewed by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
SPECIAL NOTE TO COLUMN READERS: This review contains minor plot spoilers of the Children's Theatre at Casa Manana's production of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It has been adapted by director Joe Sturgeon from the novel of the same name by Mark Twain. The novel was published in 1876. If you are unfamiliar with the storyline, then my recommendation to you, higher than I could give any play, is to stop reading this critique and drive yourself to the nearest public library, Barnes & Noble, or log onto your Amazon Kindle device and check it out. It is an essential reading experience from the lexicon of great literature.
Sturgeon's version is quite faithful to its origin's episodic nature. Tom Sawyer, parentless and living under his Aunt Polly's roof, tows the fence line boundaries of religion, the education system, domesticity and the working man's plight. Those are the underlying adult themes of Mark Twain's budding, satirical warm-up to the Tom Sawyer spin-off, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer maintains a consistently jolly and playful tone thanks to the nimble energy of Clayton Slee as Tom and Tanner Schuldt as Tom's trouble-making cohort, Huck Finn. Together they skip school, meander through the woods with the town drunk, Muff Potter, and often find themselves in compromising positions as they get a glimpse of the dark underbelly of distrustful adults.
Much of these adventures shine only at the surface level, as the polish of the streamlined pacing makes this production feel like a greatest hits anthology of a classic American tale. This works splendidly in the first half with scene staples such as Tom's entrepreneurial spirit being put to action as he trades and upgrades Bible currency or Tom conning his friends into hard labor painting Aunt Polly's fence so he can spend the afternoon in leisure.
Once the play sets foot in the grave yard; however, it lacks dramatic tension, transitioning from scene to scene with the subtlety of a bulldozer. At one point, Tom and Huck witness their own funeral and it only serves as a footnote to those familiar with the novel rather than a pivotal turning point in Tom Sawyer's bad behavior. The action packed foot chase between Tom Sawyer and Injun Joe is appropriately frenetic and intense, assisted by Jonathan Parke's taut lighting design, but again, the rushed transitions to keep things moving along keep the audience at arm's length from such a scene having any lingering effect.
Thankfully, much of the rest of the cast, like Slee and Schuldt, maintain a high level of enthusiasm and control throughout and do engage one's interest. Casa Manana mainstays Christopher Deaton and Lisa Fairchild are both versatile in multiple roles with Deaton as Mr. Sprague and Injun Joe and Fairchild as Aunt Polly, Miss Dobbins, and Doc Robinson. Emma Colwell plays Becky Thatcher. Colwell's interpretation is perhaps a bit too well-mannered to be Tom Sawyer's love interest. The scene-stealer of the chorale of schoolchildren is Westin Brown as Sid, the smart-aleck who always seems to get in the last snide word of what he thinks of Tom.
Despite the rushed pacing, a single performer gives the show countless moments of a slow, steady heartbeat. Maurice Johnson is magnetic as Muff Potter and gives the show the added depth that is missing when he is not present. Johnson has a beautiful, baritone voice, singing throughout with such period appropriate folk songs, spirituals and hymns as "Down to the River and Pray", "Ole' Dan Tucker", and the dramatic highpoint, "I'm Only Going Over Jordan".
Katie Dill designs a set that is at once nostalgically suggestive of the time period and lovingly abstract. The massive backdrop of a fence line is simple enough, but the silhouette of an open river running right through it, aided by Lighting Designer Parkes's warm lighting, help to create many memorable stage pictures.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will be appreciated most by the children, of course, and the parents or adults who take them will enjoy lecturing them about how the book is always better than the movie or the play. I don't believe the adult will be able to change the mine of the child and in this instance that's just how it should be.
THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
3101 West Lancaster Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Runs through October 28th
Fridays at 7:00 pm, Saturdays at 1:00 and 5:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $24.00 Boxed Seating and $16.00 for regular.
For tickets, call 817-332-2272 or buy online at www.casamanana.org.