Once again, Arlington, VA has been invaded by bloodthirsty pirates. Earlier this summer, Signature Theatre premiered the rollicking musical Blackbeard in Shirlington Village. Now, over in Crystal City, the Hispaniola has set sail in Treasure Island, a Synetic show you won’t want to miss.
Synetic Theater’s newest adventure has something for everyone in this adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic: Pirates (of course), danger, intrigue, excitement, spectacle, and even a strong dose of female empowerment all served up with the characteristic kinetic panache and vibrant storytelling for which the company is known.
You know the basic story, especially if, like me, you were weaned on the tale of orphaned Jim Hawkins who finds himself embroiled in a quest for long-hidden pirate treasure and the biggest scalawag of them all, peg-legged Long John Silver. Between the Illustrated Classics edition of the story and numerous film and television adaptations, my boyhood was kept salty indeed. According to the program notes, director and co-adaptor Tori Tolentino also grew up with Treasure Island as one of her favorite stories. That childhood passion has grown into a story she and co-adaptor and choreographer (and husband) Dallas Tolentino had to turn into a dynamic stage enterprise. And shiver me timbers, but they came up with a whale of a tale!
Treasure Island from Synetic Theater closes August 18, 2019. Details and tickets
In this reexamination of the story, Jim Hawkins becomes Jane, still an orphan, who longs to escape the drudgery of being a scullery maid. Synetic company member Anne Flowers brings a winning determination and strength to Hawkins, making it believable for a young lady to take to the sea and hold her own against treacherous pirates hellbent on getting the treasure map. Lee Liebeskind plays Jane’s mentor and guardian Billy Bones who warns her to beware of the man with one leg.
Jane entrusts the purloined pirate’s map to the virtuous Dr. Livesey (Da’Von T. Moody) and Squire Trelawney – played with impeccable comic timing by Karina Hilleard. Trelawney decides to embark on the sea journey to seek the treasure and brings Jane and the good doctor along. In another nod to female power, the trio finds a prime candidate to skipper their voyage, Captain Smollett, this time recast as a female sea captain, played with style by Billie Krishawn.
Also along for the journey is the ship’s cook, the old sea-dog, Long John Silver – brought to life here with layers of comedy and secrets by Chris Daileader. Daileader’s Silver has immediate chemistry with Flowers as Hawkins and reveals his mutinous plans slowly as the tension mounts and the ship’s crew edges closer to the late Captain Flint’s treasure.
The members of the ensemble – Scott Whalen, Anna Lynch, Raven Lorraine, Irene Hamilton, Conor Donahue, and Darius Johnson – all contribute to the rich fabric of the adventurous story, which is costumed with gritty detail and period style by Jeanette Christensen.
The story unfolds with edge-of-your-seat excitement and a magnificent use of the evocative scenic elements and atmospheric lighting, designed respectively by Phil Charlwood and Paul Callahan. Not a literal representation of a seaside tavern, an English sailing ship or the ubiquitous desert island, the setting provides a malleable, stylized landscape that changes as required by the rapid pace and climactic action sequences. Resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze provides the proper heightened reality – sumptuous and sonorous sounds that swell like the waves crashing on the surf.
The Tolentino’s keep the scenes moving with exciting chases, perilous sea conditions, and battles that practically leap off of the stage. The sense of danger is great, but so is the sense of camaraderie between Hawkins and the adults in her life on the high seas; the swashbuckling is brilliant, but underneath is a hearty tale about children and parents and the families we create along the way.
Treasure Island . Adapted from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson . Adaptors: Tori Tolentino and Dallas Tolentino . Directed by Tori Tolentino . Featuring: Anne Flowers, Chris Daileader, Karina Hilleard, Da’Von T. Moody, Billie Krishawn, Lee Liebeskind, Scott Whalen, Anna Lynch, Raven Lorraine, Irene Hamilton, Conor Donahue, and Darius Johnson . Composer: Konstantine Lortkipandidze . Movement Director: Dallas Torentino . Set Design by Phil Charlwood . Costume design by Jeannette Christenson . Lighting design by Paul Callahan . Sound design by Thomas Sowers . Stage manager Marley Giggey . Produced by Synetic Theater . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.