Theater review: Parkway Playhouse’s “Treasure Island”

The cast of Parkway Playhouse's swashbuckling production of Treasure Island continues performances through September 6 at the historic theater company. Photo courtesy of Parkway Playhouse

There’s a reason some works have stood the test of time to become classics. Treasure Island is one of the titles that rises to the top of the little boy inside of every man’s list of tales that define the word to its fullest. The new adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s definitive swashbuckling adventure is by playwright Ken Ludwig. The tale of a treasure map, a peg-legged pirate and hordes of eyepatch-wearing, cutlass-swinging heroes and villains is a pure joy to watch unfold on stage. Parkway Playhouse has pulled out all the stops.

Parkway’s entire stage is transformed into the deck of a ship, complete with ropes to climb and swing from. An eerie fog rolls in with the swarm of dark men doing dark deeds, and some jaunty pirate-sounding music. From the first moments, it feels like Disney’s Pirates of The Caribbean ride come to life. That makes sense, since this is the original pirate tale from which all others have spun. Without Treasure Island there’s no Jack Sparrow. In fact, much of what we think of when we think about pirates these days — including the “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” song — was written by Stevenson in the original novel.

The production is tightly paced and filled with flashy action scenes that one does not often see on stage. It’s more of a live action stunt show at times. Massive sword fights erupt with tables, chairs and bottles thrown about in the process. The able ensemble of actors looks like they are having a ball, as they chew up the scenery and the heightened language of the piece. The tale is told through the eyes of teenage Jim Hawkins who ends up with the treasure map, which propels him into the adventure of a lifetime.

Particular standouts in this show include Elijah McCallum Briggs as Jim, and Andrew Gall as the fast-talking pirate Long John Silver. Their relationship drives the story, even though it is never clear what Silver’s intentions are, or how things will end up. Young Jim’s life is at stake and the only chance of getting out alive depends on the cunning of the ship’s cook-turned-pirate Captain. Briggs is a talented young actor, living out every little boy’s swashbuckling dreams. Gall gives the crusty pirate trope a twist, adding an air of sophistication to Silver.

Most of the cast plays multiple roles and are lead by solid turns from Dan Clancy, Rob Storrs, Logan Walden and Will Storrs. The MVP award has to go to Jason Sterling, who turns up the heat as pirate Billy Bones, and reappears later as the marooned and mad Ben Gunn.

Theater fans, boys of all ages and those who love adventure should make plans to catch this unabashedly fun production.

Treasure Island runs through Saturday, Sept. 6. Shows run Fridays and Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m.. $10-$18.

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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