Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Theater review: Cleburne Carnegie Players present a traditional Anne of Green Gables
The Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players stay true to the classic story.
CLEBURNE Anne of Green Gables was the Harry Potter of the 1900s. Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote a simple autobiographical story of her childhood in her beloved Prince William Sound on the coast of Canada, but the story grew beyond Canada and morphed into an archetypal story of an orphan taken in by a family who wasn’t expecting her. This tale has been copied ever since. Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players used the authorized play by Peter DeLaurier for their production. This adaptation holds closely to the original characters and events in Montgomery’s story. Today there are millions of readers around the world who know every detail of this story.
Familiarity can be a blessing, but it’s also a challenge for a director. How do you present an archetypal story and entertain audiences who know it so well?
Shannon Loose directed a mostly young cast and crew to make this story come alive on the proscenium stage of the Cleburne Conference Center. Hilliard Cochran built a Green Gables farmhouse with visible kitchen and bedroom, and Mayre Stewart added painted trees and paint schemes to add depth to the set. A movable front porch revealed the door to the kitchen but also turned outward to provide a porch acting area.
Lighting effects were provided by Cameron Barrus and Cochran, applying spots to the apron for scenes in front of the curtain and to show changes from day to night. Sound effects by Beth Wygant and Cochran included nature chirps and an eclectic collection of blue grass and country songs.
Costumes from the late 1800s ran the gamut from ornate and colorful to drab and plain. Mackenzie Pillow created a large number of costume pieces with many changes for the actors. Costumes had to tell the story of the period but also showed the young people as they grew up during the story. Loose created hair and makeup to match costumes and those also changed many times. The backstage crew was busy.
The story covered six years during the 1890s. Loose had to provide transitions for many scene changes in a way that worked into the story. She set scenes in areas off the main set during scene changes. Besides short clips of music, there was also a series of short monologues by many characters in front of the closed curtain. These covered the scene shifts creatively, added context to the story, showed highlights of each of the ensemble characters, and provided moments of entertainment. There were some fast scene changes towards the end covered by only music, but they were so fast you heard only a few seconds of music. It seemed jarring.
Anne was played by Bryanna Levac. Her cuteness and red hair and over-the-top dramatics fit our image of Anne of the book, a girl caught in her own web of imagination while over-compensating for her insecurity. As Anne aged, Levac allowed her to mellow and mature showing a nice arc into the young lady she became. Anne’s competitor and love interest was Gilbert Blythe. Nicholas Hefner played the tall, good-looking, popular boy in town, but he was also the smartest and he competed with Anne throughout her education. Their competition pushed each to be top students. Hefner made his Gilbert stay aloof from Anne until they finally made friends at the end of the play.
Anne may have been the star, but her adoptive parents, Matthew and Marilla, represent most of the real human conflict in this story. They wanted a boy to help with farm chores. They got a girl, a high-spirited girl very different from themselves. Rick Brisco and Tonya Laree played these humble farm folks with believable attitudes and reactions from that time and place. Brisco’s Matthew was simple, a man of few words, but harboring a growing love for Anne as the years passed. Laree’s Marilla was simple but head-strong about how young girls should behave. She represented established belief. He represented tolerance. Together Brisco and Laree showed their characters overcoming one hurdle after another as Anne tested their mettle. By the end she taught them both valuable lessons about life.
Dianna Barry was played by Sarah Scarlett. The best friend of Anne from the moment they met, Dianna’s socially acceptable behaviors were opposite Anne’s high-strung dramatics, but Scarlett allowed Dianna to live in the shadow of Anne, while giving her the acceptance she craved. The show’s main comic moment involved Dianna and a mistaken bottle of wine. Scarlett’s youthful drunken act was a bit naive but funny because of it. An outstanding moment in the show was Scarlett’s a cappella solo in front of a closed curtain. Her voice was clear and strong and this pause for the funeral of Matthew was both the turning point for Anne and a surprise for the audience.
Rachel Lynde, played with the haughty nature of a town busy-body by Julie Hefner, provided real conflict in Anne’s story. She lined up against Anne in the beginning and then later sided with Matthew in making Anne more modern in her dress and more acceptable to Marilla. Other adult actors also played important moments in Anne’s growth and filled in pieces of the story. There were also young actors who played Anne’s friends and school mates. Each played their characters with youthful exuberance and helped to tell Anne’s story.
The main challenge with this production was DeLaurier’s play itself. It stretched scenes and events across six years, yet the conflicts between good and evil needed to sustain such a long show were light-weight. Anne fights against society’s expected behaviors with her wild imagination and dramatic outbursts. This was probably an acceptable fight against evil in 1908. Today we see this on Barney and Sesame Street in shorter, more accessible formats. The team at Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players did a good job of telling this famous story, but it drew a very small audience opening night. Anne of Green Gables in play form is a nice vehicle for young actors learning their craft, but as adult theater entertainment, it can’t stand up to today’s entertainment competition.
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