`Sawyer' retains appeal to young

Strong acting, set enhance Studio Theatre production based on Mark Twain novel

Review

January 19, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Judging from their reaction, it seems that Tom Sawyer still enchants new generations of young fans.

At least a fifth of the audience at Sunday's performance of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Chesapeake Arts Center's Studio Theatre were children. They frowned with concern as Tom witnessed a murder in the graveyard, snickered when his tattletale half-brother, Sid, got a reprimand from Aunt Polly and laughed openly when at his own funeral Tom pestered Sid by repeatedly touching his ankle from under a sofa.

In her director's notes, Cybele Pomeroy stresses the continuing relevance of Mark Twain's message of "a child's struggle to find a place in the community and balance between safety and danger as he matures."

The classic 1876 novel by Twain, as adapted by Charlotte Chorpenning in 1956, illustrates life along the Mississippi River in the 1840s through the eyes of the young troublemaker. The show traces Tom's many pranks, including his enlistment of friends to whitewash Aunt Polly's fence and his running off to Jackson Island with Huck Finn and Joe Harper to become pirates after seeing the killing of Dr. Robinson.

Young actors and the audience share the joke of the boys' funerals after they are presumed dead and the joy of their homecoming. Tom later helps free his wrongly accused adult friend, Muff Potter, facing and identifying Injun Joe as the villain.

Pomeroy designed the minimalist set, which works well in moving props speedily for brisk stage action.

Studio Theatre's small space is well used, with actors sometimes arriving by way of aisles that run through the audience space. During the trial and funeral scenes, actors gather close to the audience, bringing viewers into the action. At one point, Injun Joe (Sarah Tighe) asks a delighted young audience member to hold her prop while she completes a scene.

At intermission, I overheard Chesapeake Arts Center regulars commenting on how much they enjoyed Tom's antics. One woman told a friend that she admired "the kids' hard work and dedication in learning all those lines."

Some had to memorize reams of dialogue, starting with Chesapeake Bay Middle School eighth-grader Daniel Swann, who plays Tom. The seasoned young actor captures Tom's sassy bravado especially well in his scenes with Aunt Polly.

She is played with distinction by center acting teacher C.J. Crowe, who conveys Aunt Polly's annoyed desperation and unwavering affection for her nephew.

Huck Finn is given life by Garrett Pomeroy, the director's son. Garrett displays a natural, easy charm and strong rapport with his fellow actors, particularly Swann.

In her first play, sixth-grader Sarah Brinks is convincing as tomboy Joe Harper, and she is rarely guilty of any rote recitation of her lines.

Another young lady showing strong acting skills is 13-year-old Sarah Tighe, who plays a fearsome Injun Joe. Becky Thatcher is played by 11-year-old Fatima Umanzor.

In addition to Crowe, outstanding adult actors include Pat McPartlin as Minister Kellerman, and Tim Swann (Daniel's father) as Muff Potter. John Lascher as the sheriff and Josh Feist playing dual roles as Dr. Robinson and Bud Riverson add substance in minor roles.

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" continues at 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Studio Theatre, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park. Reservations: 410-636-9653.

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