On Theater: Pirates steal stage in 'Treasure Island'

Arrghh! There be pirates aboard the stage of the Huntington Beach Playhouse, where Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel "Treasure Island" is getting the theatrical treatment.

This stage version, adapted by popular comedy playwright Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor," "Moon Over Buffalo"), clearly is targeted toward younger audiences, judging by the way director Bob May loosens the reins on actors playing several of the more colorful characters. Subtlety has no role in this drama.

A large cast, most playing more than one character, navigates the twists and turns of Stevenson's story and Ludwig's script. And some quite memorable performances emerge.

Chief among these is that of an actor playing his first role in more than 50 years.

Gil Morales, a career set designer, takes on the complex character of Long John Silver and brings a sense of gruff humanity to his assignment. As a murderous one-legged pirate leading a scurvy band of buccaneers in search of buried treasure, Morales ferrets out his character's inner humanity in a laudable performance.

Austin Bullivant, playing the young hero and narrator Jim Hawkins, comes across engagingly, facing off against the pirates with boyish bravado. His moments of narration could use a bit more variety, though he soldiered through remarkably in one instance last weekend when his spotlight failed to appear and he delivered his lines in the dark.

Among the intentionally hammy performances, none is more memorable than Robert Purcell's scenery-chomping Billy Bones early in the play. He's nearly matched by David Bullivant's garrulous Blind Pew, a sightless but treacherous "advance man" for the cutthroats.

Even the good guys can go over the top on occasion. Michael Buss turns his Squire Trelawney into a jig-dancing dandy. Stephen Saatjian is strong and solid as the ship's captain, while Michael Corcoran dials it down a bit for his appearance as Jim's patron Dr. Livesey.

Among the bloodthirsty band of pirates aboard the treasure-hunting vessel, Samuel Goldman stands out as Israel Hands, a particularly nasty fellow. Larry Shaughnessy menaces as the huge Josiah Bland and Melissa Myers depicts the female pirate Anne Bonny, but she's given little to do.

On the island, Jim finds an unlikely ally — former pirate Ben Gunn, played with all stops out by Michael Castro with long white hair and beard, sort of a Robinson Crusoe. Castro revels in his depiction of a marooned man starved for food and friendship.

Ensemble work is a bit soft, despite the efforts of fight choreographer Christopher Villa. The actors do pitch in nicely in the numerous set transitions with Andrew Otero working his usual atmospheric magic on the settings and costumes.

"Treasure Island," born in 1883, has survived many incarnations to retain its status as a literary classic. Young people in particular will enjoy this latest conception at the Huntington Beach Playhouse.

TOM TITUS covers the local theater scene for the Independent.

If You Go

What: "Treasure Island"

Who: Huntington Beach Playhouse

Where: Library Theater, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 6.

Cost: $18 - $20

Call : (714) 375-0696

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