Montford Park Players seek gold in latest production

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: Jon Robinson, left, as Long John Silver, and Selah Atwood as Jim Hawkins, star in Montford Park Players' latest production, 'Treasure Island.' Photo courtesy of Montford Park Players

What would it feel like to happen upon a map that led to buried treasure? For centuries, the possibility of such an adventure has excited youthful minds everywhere thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson‘s classic 1883 novel, Treasure Island. And now, Asheville audiences can relive the tale with playwright Honor Moor‘s stage adaptation. On July 28, the production made its world premiere with the Montford Park Players, with additional shows running through Saturday, Aug. 26.

With its opening song and dance, Treasure Island takes advantage of Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre’s newly refurbished stage, which thrusts forward into the audience. Curiously, there is only one other song performed throughout the play — a melancholic number at the launch of Act 2. If the intent for this second musical performance was to capture the tone of Stevenson’s novel, it would have better served the audience at the onset.

Following the play’s joyful and ambitious opening, Moor’s adaptation returns to the book’s original first sequence. Rum-addled Capt. Billy Bones (played by Michael Carnavear) wanders into a quaint, family-run, English seafarer’s inn with a mysterious sea chest. The innkeeper’s son, young Jim Hawkins (Selah Atwood), seems ill at ease yet entranced by the visitor.

Soon, other unusual guests arrive with deep grudges against Bones. As tensions mount, Jim absconds with Bones’ treasure map. He then sets sail aboard a ship headed for a reclusive island. However, a group of pirates disguised as the crew are secretly planning a mutiny; they are led by none other than the notorious Long John Silver (Jon Robinson).

Whereas the novel is a retrospective tale, penned by Jim who is still haunted by his time at sea, Moor leans less into this framework. Instead, the playwright often replaces the book’s foreboding tone with humor. At times, this approach feels excessive, with scenes playing far too often for laughs.

That said, Carnavear takes this direction and runs with it. While the characterization seems off, he is successful in making Capt. Billy Bones memorable in a different, more commanding way.

Atwood, who goes by they/them pronouns, keeps the play moving along at a brisk pace as well. They are a great choice for the role, nabbing the youthful vigor and awareness of adulthood that the character must come to terms with.

But the greatest performance is Robinson’s Long John Silver. The complexity he brings to the character reveals to audiences that the voyage is not exclusively about gold but also about self-discovery. For the show’s success, it is an absolute necessity that this character be pitch perfect, and Robinson is captivating.

Collectively, the ensemble is also very strong. Standout performances worthy of additional attention include Larson Kapitan as Abraham Gray, John Adams as Ben Gunn, Carly “Goober” Berdine as Black Dog and Gina McDaniel as a member of the pirate ensemble.

Director David Doersch has a history in fight choreography, and it shows in Treasure Island — so much so that the production could have benefited from more pirate-brawling excitement and pure drama. In general, there is an unsteady buildup to the story’s suspense. This is a sink or swim challenge when trying to also translate the emotional fluidity Stevenson originally intended in his writing. It takes expert precision. Because of resilience from the cast and crew the production manages to swim.

With this adaptation, Doersch and Moor are not always fully synchronized in their vision. Still, their efforts are commendable, and audiences will discover an entertaining show with Treasure Island.

WHAT: Treasure Island
WHERE: 92 Gay St., Asheville, NC 28801
WHEN: Through Saturday, Aug. 26, with performances Friday-Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Donations are encouraged.


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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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