My wife and I saw a terrific adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at Hartford Stage on Friday night. Sitting there watching it unfold, I was struck by how the performance wrapped up much of my creative life in one neat package. Tom Sawyer is one of the first novels I remember reading. It’s also one of the first ones I remember reading more than once. Certain scenes stuck out. ( Who can resist smiling at the whitewash scene, for example? ) Walking in on their own funeral. The caves…. I remembered them most of all perhaps.
Tom and Becky are lost, separated from their peers. The murderous Injun Joe is somewhere in the caves as well. They have only a bit of cake, their “wedding cake”, to sustain them. It’s terrifying, really. The play captured it well. Walls and movable stairs and chairs that had been used for other scenes became an underground labyrinth. Echo on the actors voices and minimalist lighting evoked the ambience of the depths.
The play was adapted for the stage by Laura Eason and the set design is by Daniel Ostling, both of whom are ensemble members of Chicago’s wondrous Lookingglass Theatre. I don’t know either personally, but I lived in Chicago for 12 years and worked at the astounding Redmoon Theater for 3 1/2 of those years. Saw quite a few Lookingglass shows along the way. Lookingglass Alice remains one of my very favorite shows I saw in Chicago, period.
So, I’m back in my native New England, in the city where Twain wrote his masterworks in the house across the street from the church I got married in, watching an adaptation heavily shaped by artists from the city I called home for over a decade.
Kinda like that.
It was fun to revisit that personal taproot of cave adventure. And it was interesting to revisit Tom Sawyer as an adult and father of two young sons. I watch the wide eyed wonder in their eyes, witness their role playing adventures, and recognize the same spirit that Twain captured in Tom and Huck and their friends. It’s precious, that sense of wonder that we all have in childhood and only some of us hold onto as we get older.
I hang onto it as best I can. I embrace silliness and embark on flights of fancy as often as possible. I daydream. I try to see through my younger self’s wide eyes. Or my children’s.
Until the world demands otherwise of me for awhile.
To learn more about the production, read the glowing review in The New York Times.