From the time it was written for the children's magazine Young Folks—between 1881 and 1882 under the title Treasure Island or, the mutiny of the Hispaniola—Robert Louis Stevenson's famous adventure was considered a cut-above, with its "wry commentary on the ambiguity of morality."1
Rather than "children's theatre," Treasure Island is a coming-of-age story for its protagonist, Jim Hawkins (Caroline Barry), as he moves from adolescence to adulthood, following the death of his father. This leaves Jim and his mother to run the family business, the Admiral Benbow Inn, in the seaside village of "Black Hill Cove" in southwest England. Barry is absolutely winsome as the ever-upbeat Jim, whose narrative observations flesh out the story in-between dramatic events.
|(L to R) Logan Ernstthal|
as Long John Silver and
Caroline Barry as Jim Hawkins
Photo: Glenn Asakawa
University of Colorado
Stevenson's story is credited with characterizing pirates much the way we see them today, "including treasure maps marked with an 'X', schooners, the Black Spot, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen carrying parrots on their shoulders."2
Jim's adventure takes off when a pirate named Billy Bones (Stephen Weitz) stays at the Inn and leaves Jim a map to pirate Captain J. Flint's buried treasure on a faraway Caribbean isle. Weitz' grizzly Bones sets up a marvelous procession of unrivaled pirate personalities, beginning with the foreboding Black Dog (Benaiah Anderson) and the penultimate archetype, Long John Silver (Logan Ernstthal). Ernstthal, who excels in larger-than-life (see his Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night), imbues Silver with all the wonderful, contradictory traits that make him one of the most famous characters in all of literature.
Jim sets off on the schooner Hispaniola with Squire Trelawney, whose flamboyant personality and hyperbolic laugh are delivered with gusto by Gary Alan Wright. The pirate crew is motley indeed, cutthroats all, and the ensemble plays it to the hilt. Sam Sandoe as the marooned Benn Gunn is the comic flip side of The Tempest's Caliban. Geoffrey Kent's fight direction shines, with swords, knives, and guns aplenty.
A few sea chanteys, here and there, add to the vérité. Loyalties shift unpredictably, delivering some poignant life lessons for Jim and, by proxy, the young audiences.
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Treasure Island runs in repertory with Twelfth Night, Richard III, Noises Off, and Women of Will through August 9th, with two additional performances (August 16-17) at the Arvada Center. 303-492-0554 or www.coloradoshakes.org.
2Cordingly, David, Under the Black Flag: the romance and reality of life among the pirates; 1995 p. 7