Treasure Island: a short review of the Mary Zimmerman adaptation

Treasure Island: a short review of the Mary Zimmerman adaptation

Ahoy mates, the ship has arrived at Lookingglass Theatre. The treasure is in Mary Zimmerman’s fine tuned production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island” highlighted by Todd Rosenthal’s striking visuals.

From the get go “Treasure Island” at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre was anticipated to rock the boat in a big way when the production set sail in Chicago. Due to some very techy touches, the boat–actually a very large pirate ship, the Hispaniola, complete with irons, keel, ropes, ladders, trap door, mast and gangplank–literally did rock from side to side on stage.

Opening its 28th Season, Lookingglass Theatre Company’s World Premiere of “Treasure Island”– just off the heels of a very successful Jeff-winning run of “Moby Dick” is a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

The Zimmerman adaptation sticks close to Stevenson’s 1883 novel which, in my opinion, is a good thing–after all why mess with such a beautifully written classic story.

Methinks that most of you landlubbers are familiar with the story of “Treasure Island” but for those who might not be here’s a capsule summary.

The story takes place in the mid-1700s. Fifteen year old Jim Hawkins (John Babbo,) lives with his mom (Kasey Foster), an innkeeper in an English seaside village. One day Billy Bones (Christopher Donahue) a very drunk pirate comes to the inn and offers Jim money to keep his eye out for a one-legged pirate.

Soon after arriving, Billy dies, leaving behind a huge debt along with a treasure map that points the way to a buried treasure.  From there the action moves to the sea and the search for the treasure and all the mayhem and danger that entails.

A carefully chosen ragtag cast of characters consisting of 14 actors and musicians carries out the mission through some tricky athletic choreography–a trademark of Lookingglass Theatre productions.

The talented cast includes: Ensemble Members Lawrence E. DiStasi, Philip R. Smith, and Andrew White with John Babbo, Matt DeCaro, Travis Delgado, Christopher Donahue, Kasey Foster, Greg Hirte, Anthony Irons, Steve Pickering, Ariel Shafir, L.J. Slavin, and Mathew Yee.

John Babbo as Jim Hawkins, already a theater and television veteran at fifteen, gave a very poised but unemotional narrative to move the show along. Steve Pickering as Admiral Benbow was a crowd pleaser. The one-legged Long John Silver (Lawrence E. DiStasi)–the evil pirate–played his role to perfection with and without his talking parrot.

The two hour and 30 minute production ran smoothly with few surprises. A more lively Act II offered more of  Zimmerman’s playful side than we saw in the first act.

When the action took place on the sea the show was compelling. On land, the story goes a bit adrift as a large dose of imagination is needed to believe that the little pieces of green foliage placed on the ship’s ropes signified land. Whether there could be a better way to do this I’m not sure as the impressive pirate ship took up the entire stage area.

Runs: Through January 31, 2016

Where: Lookingglass Theatre Company, located inside Chicago’s historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission

Rating: 3 stars

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