By: Anita W. Harris
Ahoy there, all ye theatre adventurers! There’s treasure to be had in yonder Long Beach Playhouse! Treasure Island, that is, from the book by Robert Louis Stevenson, adapted for the stage by Phil Willmott and very imaginatively directed by Dale Jones. Take your fill of rummy pirates, rollicking sea shanties, spirited swordfights, a cheese-obsessed castaway and one very brave young lad as you set sail on the Hispaniola to where X marks the spot.
The robust cast of this endeavor do their darnedest in bringing to life the 1770s story of a boy who accompanies a ship’s crew to find buried treasure after a map of its location was left behind by a pirate at his mother’s London boarding house. But the adventure is not limited to boys in this production– female pirates “yo ho ho” as well, heaving ropes and swords right alongside their male counterparts. As director Jones notes, “Why should boys get all the fun?” In fact, our young hero Jim Hawkins is astutely played by Carmel Artstein, a girl in real life.
All 19 members of the ensemble clamber about the stage at the center of the theatre’s U-shaped seating, on a set suggestive of a wooden ship’s deck with mast and sails. They also interact with the audience, leading us in song and playfully engaging with those seated near the stage. Costumes are raggedy and brightly patterned, befitting our image of pirates. There is even an ornery pirate parrot puppet, voiced and operated by Kip Hogan.
The enthusiastic actors fully inhabit their larger-than-life characters. Jill Prout embodies the role of Lady Trelawney, organizer and financer of the voyage and the epitome of a proper English noblewoman who just happens to tote a gun. Assisting her are the clear and idealistic Miss Lucinda Livesey (Serena Bottani-Henderson), who insists their hunt on the island is for butterflies, and the dignified and stalwart Captain Smollett (Jaxson Brashier).
Among the pirates, colorful characters abound, including: Black Dog (Gregory “Grib” McEwan), a very convincing human-canine mix; cunning peg-leg Long John Silver (an impressive Erik Celso Mann), brought on as ship’s cook and becoming Jim’s surrogate father, but secretly mutinous; and the man behind the map, Billy Bones, heartily portrayed by Jack Murphy. Mitchell Nunn is hilariously sympathetic as dairy-deprived island castaway Ben Gunn, whose fantasy of dancing and singing cheese-women is brought to life before our very eyes. The women pirates, too, play their roles with gusto, with the brash, double-sworded Isabella Lolita Esmeralda Cortez (A’driana Abbate) standing out for flamboyance. Fight choreography by Matt Franta is dynamic, with the whole crew at each other’s throats at one point, fists flying and swords clashing.
While Treasure Island was originally written as a boy’s adventure, the inner Jim Hawkins in each of us would delight in being swept away by this swashbuckling production, a treasure trove of exuberance.
Treasure Island continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through May 6, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $20 to $24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014 or visit lbplayhouse.org.