Round House Gives US Pirates for Christmas
By Missy Frederick
Yarrrrrr. Forget Jacob Marley and Sugarplum Fairies. What DCist wants for Christmas this year is pirates.
And Round House is more than happy to oblige. Their production of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (a new version by Broadway vet Ken Ludwig) fully embraces the pirate fascination that our culture has embraced even before Johnny Depp made the word "savvy" his own.
The story is one familiar to many who grew up with the tale -- a group of seamen set off to find treasure -- a famous pirate's map has found its way into the hands of a young boy. Little do they know that their crew has been infiltrated by former members of that captain's gang, and the story becomes a face-off between the pirates and the treasure-seekers, as well as a coming of age tale about the youngster Jim Hawkins (Maribeth Fritzky).
The work starts out a little slow, with an anemic opening sword fight, and a few early scenes that aren't as attention grabbing as they should be (though Stephen F. Schmidt does a nice job setting the tone as an illustriously-garbed Captain Flint). But things really pick up steam once Long John Silver (Mark Mineart) shows up on the scene.
Mineart is an ideal choice for the role - he's got the gravely, seasoned quality of a man who's spent years at sea, an underlying air of menace, and perhaps most importantly, a genuine streak of kindness that shows through during opportune moments. The relationship between him and young Jim is at the heart of the play, and Ludwig's version emphasizes their dynamic.
Treasure Island is so successful because it's so immersive; we're completely swept up in this tale of adventure, which is surprising, given its swashbuckling, fantastical nature. Casting Fritzky, a plucky actress, in the role of young Jim is a fascinating choice, and her uber-enthusiastic portrayal epitomizes the excitement and promise of youth. She's joined by a cast of hardy buccaneers, standouts including Ethan T. Bowen in the dramatically contrasting roles of Billy Bones and Squire Trelawney, and Michael Anthony Williams, whose imperious appearance as the pirate Black Dog only hints at the more impressive one to come as the mysterious, nutty Ben Gunn.
Round House's set often displays an appropriate glamor, like the ominous crossbones symbol or the neatly-crafted sailing ship (though the set's rotating elements are sometimes more distracting than effective). In general, the production is successful because it is infused with such a zest for fun, while avoiding being cartoonish. It's a great choice for this December, and maybe even a more welcome tradition than a parade of Scrooges.