The words “Thank Jerry Bruckheimer” are not often strung together, but without his inspired decision to turn a Disney theme park ride into a big-budget summer tent pole movie nearly 10 years ago, I’m guessing that pirates would not be enjoying their current entertainment industry renaissance. Though real-world pirates still ply the seas today, they have horrible PR departments. They are generally poverty-stricken, murderous thugs that lack the whimsical cachet of peg legs and sassy parrots.
But slather mascara on Johnny Depp and let him prance about doing his best Keith Richards impression, and you can reignite an entire genre. Kids once again pretend to be pirates — of course they all clamor to be Capt. Jack Sparrow rather than Blackbeard, but what can you do? And everyone from porn producers to the steady hands that guide the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) senses that these are the times to fly them bones. (That’s both a Jolly Roger and a Thomas Paine reference for anyone playing at home.)
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island rounds out the CSF’s 2012 season. It shares Mary Rippon outdoor theatre space with Twelfth Night and Richard III, so its set can sprawl and the action on it flow fast and furious. The deck of a ship, complete with a wooden ship’s wheel and all manner of ropes and rigging, dominates the center of the stage. Trap doors abound, giving the actors numerous points of ingress and egress, and the ship’s mast provides a dramatic height from which more than one character plummets to the unseen depths below.
Treasure Island tells the tale of young Jim Hawkins (Caroline Barry), a fatherless lad of good heart and mind who finds himself embroiled in pirate adventures. It is a coming of age story in which Hawkins grows from boy to man. His mettle and morals are tested, and neither is found wanting.
When salty dog Billy Bones (Stephen Weitz) shuffles into the Hawkins family inn, he is the first real pirate Jim has ever seen. Bones speaks the pirate’s patois, downs rum as if it were water and gives off the distinct impression that he would kill you as soon as look at you. Soon after his arrival at the inn, Bones’ past catches up to him, and he is forced to bequeath to Jim the most classic of pirate plot devices, a treasure map.
Thus does Jim’s tale of derringdo begin in earnest. He finds a wealthy benefactor, Squire Trelawney (Gary Alan Wright), willing to finance a journey to find the treasure and becomes the cabin boy to the ship’s captain, Smollet (also played by Weitz). Jim is even instrumental in recruiting John Silver (Logan Ernstthal) to act as ship’s cook. If that name feels only an adjective short of familiar, it’s because it is. On the high seas, not everything is what it seems.
Buckles are swashed, mutinies occur, there are multiple fights to the death, and the word “lubber” is tossed around extravagantly. Jim learns that the world is more about the grey than black and white, and he discovers that there may have been more to his long-lost father than he previously thought.
While I wouldn’t take the really young ones to it — it features multiple murders, a beheading and many loud gunshots — Treasure Island is the most kid-friendly show at this year’s CSF. It’s a fast-paced, often silly, simple, fluffy fantasy, which makes it perfect for children or the child inside most adults.
Though there are some standout performances, particularly Weitz’s dual roles, Wright’s fay Trelwaney, Sam Sandoe’s moony, marooned Benn Gunn and Ernstthal’s Long John Silver, the star of Treasure Island is Geoffrey Kent’s fight choreography. Kent, who acts as fight director for all of the CSF shows, has outdone himself here. The one-on-one swordplay is crisp and credible, and the large group melees are cohesive and, often, terribly amusing.
Though neither Shakespeare nor high art, Treasure Island caps off the Shakespeare Festival in solid form.