Dallas — The idea for Stevenson’s sea tale began as an illustration initiated by his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne. He began by sketching an island which he filled in with Scottish hills and harbors. As the drawing took shape, Stevenson, who had joined Lloyd in working on the illustration, began to see a story developing. By the time readers had finished the 18 installments of the story which were first published in 1881, they had become enamored of Jim Hawkins, Billy Bones and a one-legged pirate named Long John Silver. Treasure Island became one of the most popular literary works of all time. Estimates are there have been more than 50 adaptations of Stevenson’s sea tale for television and film, and two dozen or more for the stage.
After considering several possibilities for the opening of the Dallas Children’s Theater’s 35th season, co-founder and artistic director Robyn Flatt selected this piece, her childhood favorite.
Treasure Island Reimagined!, an adaptation of Stevenson’s classic novel, results from two years of collaboration among four performing arts organizations: Prism Movement Theater, Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry, Lone Star Circus and the Dallas Children’s Theater. Flatt is the coordinating director for this production. Circus elements were directed by Fanny Kerwich and Lone Star Circus.
Flatt wanted to capture the high-energy and intense visual elements of the original tale and demonstrate what can happen when several disciplines come together to tell story. Prism co-founders Jeffrey Colangelo and Katy Tye recognized the challenge of presenting the spectacle in a way that enhances the story rather than overwhelming it. In addition to portraying characters, Tye directs movement for the play and Colangelo choreographs the fights. Puppetry is seamlessly folded into the production, sometimes leaving the audience wondering whether what they are experiencing is real. Most memorable is Long John Silver’s hyper-realistic parrot.
Our hero, young Jim Hawkins (Katy Tye) and retired Billy Bones (Jeffrey Colangelo) meet in Jim’s parents’ establishment, the Admiral Benbow Inn. Bones, an alcoholic with a penchant for drunken brawls, has a stroke following a sword fight with Black Dog (Karl Schaeffer). Bones is tended to by Dr. Livesey (also played by Karl Schaeffer) who cautions him about his drinking. Bones tells Jim about his days sailing with well-known and feared pirate, Captain Flint (Douglass Burks), and about a treasure map. Bones has a visitor, Pew (also played by Douglass Burks) who brings him a “black spot” (symbol of death). Shortly after Pew’s visit, Bones suffers a second stroke from which he does not recover.
Jim and his mother (Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso) find the treasure map among Bones’ things. Jim has by this time become completely fascinated with the idea of adventures at sea. Through Squire Trelawney (Michael Isaac) Jim meets Long John Silver, and his adventure at sea begins with Captain Smollett (Ivan Jasso) on the Hispaniola, O’Brien (Matt Holmes), Ben Gunn (Aaron Jay Green), and George (Bwalya Chisanga).
Filling out the ensemble are: Alyssa Cavazos (Kid, Morgan and Ensemble), Sally Fiorello (Pirate, Puppeteer, Ensemble), and pirate Asaf Mor (taking over for Josh Porter who originated the role).
This story translates well as an ensemble piece and this is an engaging cast. Costumes are essential to the success of a period adventure. Lyle Huchton (costume designer) takes care to keep the elements of each character in the costumes. They keep the pace moving, providing energy while avoiding chaos. The moments between Marcus Stimac and Katy Tye are lovely, setting up a nice balance between that persuasion and the other dastardlier exchanges between the pirates.
Jeffrey S. Franks, scenic and video designer, has created wonderful imagery which divides the space, focusing the action on a ship and on land without confusion. Actors scurry up floor-to-ceiling halyards, helping to create a sense of immersiveness for the audience as does the fabric sheet which Katy Tye uses, walking up and sliding down amid the audience.
Jason Lynch’s lighting design for the constellations is fabulous, especially the fight between Orion, Ram and Bear. Sea shanties have been arranged by Seth Magill.
Treasure Island Reimagined! is creative, interesting, visually engaging and artistically resonant. Most importantly, it is fun.