Ogden mateys go 'Aarrrg!'--Treasure Island opens at Hale Center Theatre
By NANCY VAN VALKENBURG
Starting next week, Weber State University student Sam Cook will be fighting for his life every other weeknight and more than once each Saturday.
Cook, 21, plays two pirates in Ken Ludwig's drama "Treasure Island," opening Monday at the Hale Centre Theatre in its regional premiere.
"I'm in act one, scene one, the first person onstage," Cook said. "I'm running from the other pirates, climbing a mast, climbing ropes, fighting, afraid for my life because I'm about to die. By the time they capture me, I can barely breathe to say my lines. It's exhausting. When we first started to rehearse, our director told us he wanted it to be a dangerous-looking show to the point that people cringe in their seats."
It's a far cry from Cook's last pirating gig, in Weber State's "Peter Pan," in which Cook sang, danced and dodged the occasional low-flying Pan.
"I used to play pirates when I was a kid. We had a pirate-ship Lego set. This is like living a boyhood dream, but with real costumes, swords and a ship. It's extremely fun for us guys."
The show is double-cast, and uses actors from Davis and Weber counties in several key roles. One of Cook's two actor roommates, Tim Reed, plays a pirate and the young victim of another pirate. Josh Richardson, of Farmington, plays one of the Long John Silver roles, and wife Jennie Richardson, in the same cast, plays the lone female pirate, Anne Bonny, and doubles as the mother of young Jim Hawkins.
Other locals, split between the two casts, are Mike Hohl, West Bountiful, as Captain Smollett; Ryan Bott, Fruit Heights, as Black Dog; and David Stensrud, Roy, as Billy Bones.
And working behind the scenes is Brad Schroeder, of Ogden, as the fight director; and Rob Kinmont, of Clinton, who engineered the 12,000-gallon pool, set at stage level, to represent an ocean that welcomes several characters to a watery death in about 50 tons of water.
"The city comes by for daily inspections, to make sure things are built the way they are supposed to be," said Kinmont, 38. "We had to cut out sections of the building support beams, and put up new, permanent bracing. We had a number of structural engineers run the numbers.
"The pool is L-shaped, made of steel, with two layers of plywood, then rubber membrane reinforced with nylon on the back. There's a heater to keep the actors warm, and a filter system to keep the water fresh. Some of the most amazing stuff in the theater is the stuff you don't see."
The plan to stage "Treasure Island" was launched in the winter of 2007/2008 when the Hale mounted "Lend Me a Tenor."
"Ken Ludwig, a Tony winner, is the playwright, and he sent us a script to take a look at," said Mark Dietlein, of Bountiful, executive producer of "Treasure Island" and grandson of the Hale's founders. "We thought, wow, this is a fun, exciting adventure show."
"Treasure Island" was a perfect fit not only because of the strong script, Dietlein said, but because of its source as literature with a special appeal to boys.
Each year, the Hale invites schools to attend one show chosen for its appeal to students. Clearfield and Davis high schools, and the Utah School for the Blind, are among the Weber and Davis County schools that will be treated to free seats.
Author Robert Louis Stevenson published "Treasure Island" in 1883. The adventure novel follows Jim Hawkins, 14, who is drawn into a seafaring hunt for buried golden treasure, survives a mutiny and is befriended by a murderous peg-legged pirate, Long John Silver. Hawkins survives by his wits and by the good graces of Silver, who himself faces deadly threats from his crew.
Actor Josh Richardson, a veteran of the Utah Shakespearean Festival and other professional theater companies, sees Silver as a role he was born to play.
"As an actor, you really have to know your type, what you can play, what audiences will believe," said Richardson, 31. "I love playing rogues and scoundrels, Han Solo-type characters who can wink and get by on luck and skill. Silver is all charm, luck, skill and determination.
"Silver is the quintessential hero villain," said the actor, whose day job is as Internet manager for Murdock Chevrolet. "He's absolutely out for himself, but develops a soft spot in his heart for Jim Hawkins, and saves his life more than once.
"Silver is so well-written, in the book and the play. You just love the guy. He comes across as likable even when he is doing unlikable things, like Jack Sparrow of 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' He's a thief, and he's selfish, but he's so darn charming."
The trait Richardson has to fake is a missing leg. Both he and the actor who plays Silver in the alternate cast will perform the role with one leg held up, hidden in a leather harness.
"It has taken time to built up tolerance to the harness," Richardson said. "You start by wearing it for 15 minutes at a time, then 30. Now I can go 115 minutes before it gets numb and loses feeling. But there are breaks in the play where you can do a quick release, and stretch out. I'm to the point now where I can do the whole play, and it just feels like I slept on it wrong. The scarier thing is if you slip, and the crutch goes out from under you, it hurts."
Wife Jennie Richardson, 39, has long harbored pirate dreams as well.
"I guess you could say I've always been kind of a tomboy, and it's always been a 'boyhood' dream of mine to be a pirate," she joked. "Who doesn't want to be a pirate?"
(The couple's two sons, ages 4 and 7, show no pirate leanings, their father reports. They couldn't even get excited about "Muppet Treasure Island.")
Jennie Richardson, also a stage veteran, said her challenge is being double-cast as Hawkins' sweet mother, and as Silver's pirate mate, who behaves as one of the guys.
"I've chosen to play Anne Bonny as close to a guy as I can," said the actress, an anesthetist by day. "She is very solid. She moves with intent. She is graceful, but certainly not soft. As Jim Hawkins' mother, I wear a very beautiful dress, with a mop cap and curls. She has a different demeanor and accent than Bonny has. So I play the lady that runs the tavern, then I go play pirate. I do seem to play a lot of borderline scoundrels."
Reed, 23 and a Weber State student who played a Lost Boy in WSU's "Peter Pan," tried out on a whim.
"I was down in Salt Lake, and a friend encouraged me to do it. It worked out because I didn't have time to get nervous."
Reed heard about the rope-climbing required at callbacks, and set up a rope at a gym. He's been working out ever since, often with weights provided at rehearsal.
Dietlein said many pirate costumes were designed to let actors show off their "gym bodies."
"For this show, I'm flexed for almost the entire time," Reed said. "I try to carry myself the way a pirate would, grounded to the earth and ready to kill someone at any time."
Reed is also cast as a young man who is run through with Silver's crutch and dumped into the drink.
"I have to go in the water like I'm entirely dead, then swim underwater until I am offstage and climb out on the other side."
But the actor counts none of these feats as his biggest challenge during the show.
"I go to class from 8 to 1, then work 1 to 5, then drive straight to rehearsal," Reed said. "I get back home at 11, and start any homework I have so I can go to class in the morning. I live out of my car. I always have snacks and granola bars, and several changes of clothes. And on days I don't rehearse for 'Treasure Island,' I rehearse for the next (Hale) show, 'Hello, Dolly!'
"I love it. I get to be a pirate, like I wanted to be as a kid. I get to sing in the 'Hello, Dolly!' ensemble. I've always loved theater. The show is an adventure. Life is an adventure."