Theatrical thrills come in many packages, and there is something particularly compelling when limited resources meet boundless imagination. With Live Action Set, Noah Bremer has crafted engaging theater mainly out of the talents of his actors. In his Theatre in the Round debut, Bremer does the same with a recent adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure tale, Treasure Island.
It's not just that Theatre in the Round works with fewer resources than other companies. Ken Ludwig's adaptation was intended for a big proscenium, not the small arena the company calls home. That makes set changes difficult, and there are a lot of locations in the tale of young Jim Hawkins, pirate Long John Silver, and sailors flying the Jolly Roger. Anyone who has suffered through a show that took an eternity to redress the set knows it can be death for momentum.
The solution? Much of the set (designed by Sadie Ward) is modular, primarily built out of small, square platforms that can be quickly re-formed from the deck of a ship to barricades. Beyond that, it comes down to the skills of the actors to bring the various locations to life.
Treasure IslandTheatre in the Round Players245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis612.333.3010; through May 19
Under Bremer's direction, the production has a strong physical aspect. In the opening, the pirates lie on their backs, holding the platforms and rolling them back and forth to simulate waves. Elsewhere, fight choreographer Steve Looten Jr. earns his stripes with some nice bits of swashbuckling and a power slam during a bar fight that would put plenty of pro wrestlers to shame.
This rough-hewn aesthetic reaches into the entire production. The designers, including costume creator Michelle Clark and prop designer Robert J. Smith, merge steampunk with punk punk, using a mixture of brass gears, torn jackets, and a snarling attitude. One character even sports goggles — a steampunk hallmark — throughout the show, though she never actually wears them over her eyes.
All this talk about the design side (did I mention the sound and music? They set the scene as much as the action onstage) shouldn't lead you to think the production is all onstage flash. While the acting is often a bit rough, it works with the show's punk attitude, where conviction often makes up for a lack of experience.
It also helps that the leads give solid performances, led by Jason Paul Andrews as young and naive Jim Hawkins and David Tufford as the morally complex Long John Silver. Their characters' paths are well trod, but the actors make them fresh by emphasizing youth in the case of Andrews and constant conniving from Tufford.
There are fun turns throughout the cast. Ware Carlton-Ford presents Blind Pew as a creature out of a nightmare, able to control everyone around him even if he can't see a thing. The co-adventurers Trelawney (Megan Dowd) and Dr. Livesey (Tristan Tifft) are played more as buffoons than outright heroes, which gives the actors plenty of space to have fun.
Fun is the key word here. Treasure Island is loud, raucous, and mainly interested in telling a good adventure yarn. Bremer, cast, and crew do a fantastic job of that from beginning to end.