It’s a book every American knows, but most people misquote the title. It should be The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Appleseed Productions artistic director C.J. Young has seized upon the word “adventures” and run with it. The production breaks with years of tradition, includes intervals of music and dance, and delivers plenty of, well, adventure.
Young is employing Laura Eason’s faithful but fresh new adaptation of the Mark Twain classic. Hot young playwright Eason, staff writer for Netflix’s House of Cards, has long been affiliated with Chicago’s Lookingglass Company, known for highly physical productions. Its Lookingglass Alice appeared at Syracuse Stage in February 2010.
Keeping with the Lookingglass aesthetic, Young lets the action spill off the stage onto the floor, with the tables and chairs moved back in the performance space of the Atonement Lutheran Church. So when Tom (Eian Prinsen) and Becky (Gracie Catanzarite) are running for their lives through a darkened cave, we’re in there with them, thanks to Bryan Simcox’s lighting.
Eason’s script tells the story three ways. The show opens with the gymnastic dance sequence that prefigures the action, ably choreographed by Jimmy Curtin. Four youthful narrators (Sydney Dennison, Jessie Dobrynski, Kara Dunn and Nancy O’Connor) clarify all missing links to frame the action, like Tom’s challenges from Master Dobbins (Jason Timothy) at school, or constant harangues from stern Aunt Polly (Betsy York). Tom’s shorter, darker sidekick Huck (Hunter Siegel-Cook) still carries a dead cat. Ever the good salesman, Tom still convinces the neighborhood kids it would be fun to whitewash the picket fence for him.
Tom and Huck’s most harrowing adventure comes from witnessing Injun Joe (David Minikhiem) murdering Doc Robinson (Jason Timothy), only to have the culprit pin the crime on innocent Muff Potter (Austin Arlington).
Most beguiling about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are its speed and lightness of touch. That takes hard work.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, featuring Gracie Catanzarite and Eian Prinsen, continues on Friday, Sept. 12, and Saturday, Sept. 13, 8 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 14, 2 p.m., at the Atonement Lutheran Church, 116 W. Glen Ave. Call 492-9766 for information.