The Adventures of Tom Sawyer -- It’s a Boy’s Life

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

There are dozens of dramatic productions of Mark Twain's novel "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and Hartford Stage Company has commissioned another by the celebrated author Laura Eason as their contribution to the centennial of Twain's death in 1910. It is at HSC under the inspired direction of Jeremy B. Cohen with an excellent scenic design by Daniel Ostling.

Eason has stripped the novel down to its most well known sections, and with an eight person cast not only captures much of what this wonderful childhood experience covers but gives a sense of the 19th century world in which the novel takes place.

In the title role is Tim McKiernan who is making his professional theater debut following his BFA in Acting from the University of Arizona in Tucson. With only one exception, the other performers are all professional members of Actors Equity. But watching McKiernan act you’d never believe he was a newcomer.  He fits right in.  From the first moment we meet him he is Tom Sawyer and through a variety of scenes and movements he captures the nuances of this boy discovering the rural world of pre-Civil War America.

Eason and Cohen cleverly present the most familiar of the scenes ranging from Tom's clever deception to get Aunt Polly’s fence whitewashed to several classroom scenes and eventually the struggle to find his way out of the caves in which he and Becky Thatcher (sweetly captured by Louisa Krause) are lost and are being hunted by the villainous Joe Paulik as the evil Injun Joe. Much of the success here is due to Ostling's clever use of simple set pieces such as ladders and chairs. Additionally there is some excellent lighting by Robert Wierzel and original music and sound from Broken Chord Collective.  You are really taken on a journey through the caves as you easily suspend your disbelief.

The novel captures the qualities of adolescent life as experienced by a boy in a series of adventures.  Eason and Cohen make those adventures come to life and McKiernan brings Tom’s youthful sensitivity to bear upon what transpires.  In a preface to the book, Twain urges adults to also experience the novel which he says was written mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls but also as a way of reminding adults of what they once were and, as he wrote, "how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in."

As a result The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at Hartford Stage will certainly delight the youthful in the audience as it did the evening we saw it, and remind those of us whose youth perhaps has flown of a time when given the right plan almost anything was possible.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is at the Hartford Stage Company through May 9. Tickets for children and students are $10 off the full price when purchased in advance.  There are other discount programs. For tickets and information call the box office (860) 527-5151.

This review appeared in Shore Publications.

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