Sunday, April 3, 2011

Millbrook: "Anne of Green Gables"

The Spring season is underway in Millbrook with the Millbrook Community Players' production of Anne of Green Gables, Joseph Robinette's affectionate adaptation of L. M. Montgomery's classic.

Directed by Chris Perry with a wealth of local talent -- some 38 in all, mostly area school children -- the staging capitalizes on these talents by providing on-stage opportunities for so many neophyte actors.

For those unfamiliar with the book or with several film and television adaptations of it, the story of orphan Anne Shirley's [Jubilee Lofgren] teen years begins as she is reluctantly adopted by kindly brother and sister Matthew [Joe Nolin, Jr.] and Marilla Cuthbert [Renae Perry] whose house -- "Green Gables" -- is the idyllic location on Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Red-haired, green-eyed, freckle-faced, and skinny, Anne bemoans her plain looks and dreams of escape to both physical beauty and overly-romanticized places. In fact, she describes most everything she experiences with over-the-top melodramatic language and gestures sourced, no doubt, from exposure to the popular novels of the day.

Teased and ridiculed by children and adults alike, Anne is befriended by a neighbor girl Diana Barry [Elizabeth Knott], a local popular beauty, and they swear to be "bosom friends" for life.

Anne talks a mile a minute, sometimes imprudently, her imagination working overtime -- annoyances that nevertheless endear her to others. She is very intelligent, too, providing competition to Gilbert Byrne [Cory Jones], a local Lothario and the smartest boy in school. Their love-hate relationship adds a spark of youthful romance to the plot.

Most of the other characters are drawn with bold strokes -- nohing too subtle: Ms. Lofgren's broad gestures and declamatory speaking especially make her stand out from the crowd, while Mr. Nolin's and Ms. Perry's more naturalistic styles serve as contrast.

Angela Pietrzak turns in a simply conceived performance as local busybody Rachel Lynde who, it turns out, has a softer side. And Pamela Trammell's no-nonsense rendering of Aunt Josephine Barry is a model of controlled solid naturalistic acting.

Fitting several years into its two-hour & twenty-minute two acts, the production often feels choppy, as scene changes stop the action during long periods of stage darkness. Either adding music during these changes, or overlapping action from two scenes, might help.

Mr. Perry's actors have for the most part overcome the accoustical challenges of Millbrook's theatrical space, though some voices are hard to hear because he has staged the actors facing off-stage instead of angled towards the audience.

All in all, this Anne of Green Gables is a sweet tribute to the goodness in all of us, enabling us to settle our differences with generosity and compassion.