Laura Eason's recent adaptation of Mark Twain's immortal The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an invigorating and captivating work, full of enthusiastic performances and thrilling action. I've seen several different takes on this book, and this is probably the most fun and smartly conceived of them all. The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is currently presenting a production of Eason's play, and it's another top notch production in a season full of terrific choices.
The story follows the book fairly closely, with players putting in bits of narration that come straight out of the original text, and which binds the plot together in satisfactory fashion. Of course, for those who haven't read the novel, it's the tale of a young boy who, along with his orphaned best buddy Huck Finn, witnesses the murder of Doc Robinson in a graveyard by the evil Injun Joe, who pins the deed on Muff Potter. There's a wonderfully eerie scene where Tom and his girlfriend, Becky Thatcher, wander hopelessly lost inside a cave for days, before narrowly escaping the vengeance of Injun Joe.
Tim McKiernan is a wonderful Tom Sawyer, full of bluster and always ready for action and adventure, even if he has a soft spot for Becky, winningly essayed by Hayley Treider. Robbie Tann is perfect as the barefoot Huck Finn, who is idolized by all the boys because he's not beholden to anyone, and he can smoke a corncob pipe without getting sick.
The supporting cast is really good as well, and each play multiple roles. Nance Williamson is stern, but genuinely fair as Aunt Polly, but really draws laughs as a shy student. Justin Fuller makes an impression as Joe Harper, a fellow student and Muff Potter's defense attorney. Nate Trinrud is sharp as the persnickety Sid, who's always informing on poor Tom, and also does strong work as the prosecuting attorney, and the late Doc Robinson. Joseph Adams does a fine job as the wrongfully accused Muff Potter, while Michael D. Nichols is great as Tom's teacher, the local preacher, and the malevolent Injun Joe.
Jeremy B. Cohen's direction is briskly paced and takes full advantage of Daniel Ostling's stark, but effective, picket fence scenic design. Lorraine Venberg provides the proper period costumes and Robert Wierzel illuminates the show with the atmosphere and mood of each scene clearly in mind. Tommy Rapley gives the show a unique kinetic flow with his movement direction and fight choreography. Mark Walston's props include some great dummies that are used to depict townspeople in the local church. Broken Chord provides the dramatic music that really adds a contemporary sound, while still managing to maintain the right feel for the era.
The Rep's production of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is required viewing for anyone who's read Twain's classic, but will surely please even those who haven't with its considerable charm. The show continues through December 23, 2011 on the main stage at the Loretto-Hilton.