Something might be wrong with me. I just have never understood the attraction to the fictional works of Mark Twain; I love his homespun wisdom and wit, but I think Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are unlikeable characters doing boring things in boring ways.
Even Twain himself said it was impossible to adapt the story for the stage, which the actors told us in the introduction to the preface to the introduction. But writer Trey Tatum is not one to back down from a challenge and he has taken this material and made something workable out of it. It appeared that the cast – all quite talented in their own right – were having fun. The pacing was thankfully brisk; director Bridget Leak has staged it well making use of the props and space. But I just didn’t like it.
I hate to say that; I think Tatum and Leak are quite a couple and are very nice people. And I think every single actor on stage is talented and hardworking and did a nice job with what they were given. But this project just didn’t work for me. Housed in an almost abandoned church, with actual bats flying over their heads, in sweltering 90 degree heat its extremely hard to create good theatre. I don’t think I would have liked it any better outside with the mosquitos.
THE COMPLETE TOM is full of good efforts and intentions. Perhaps if you have a love for Tom Sawyer and Becky, Huck, Aunt Polly, and friends you might enjoy a production like this, but for me it was one of the longest 90 minute shows I’ve ever sat through. (I did appreciate the free water and strawberry cupcakes, though.)
I’d like to see this same crew take on something of social relevance, perform it in community centers (with air conditioning and no flying rodents), and see the city’s grant money used to bring cultural and societal change to Cincinnati.
Hopefully there will be a next time, as free theatre is important to our city’s artistic landscape, and I believe that good theatre can change people’s lives. I bet Tatum and Leak think so, too. I just wonder if the city council agrees as this particular grant seems to have been cut for next year. That’s a shame.