A story is an illusion, a series of events that are not really taking place, presented in a way that fools its audience into believing, for a moment, that it is all really happening.
Telling that story in a book or movie is a certain kind of trick, with its own rules and traditions, and telling the same story on the stage is quite another. But transferring a story from one medium to another—say, from the screen to the stage—that may be the hardest trick of all.
Which brings us to ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Amélie.’
Two beloved stories, one a classic book and the other a beloved modern masterpiece of cinema, have both landed on stage in the Bay Area, and each carries its own unique kind of cross-media magic.
At Spreckels Performing Arts Center, in Rohnert Park, Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic pirate adventure ‘Treasure Island’ hits the stage in a compact, robust adaptation by Ken Ludwig.
Someone give me an Arrrrrrr?
Directed with humor and charm by David Yen, staged in the intimate studio theater with exhilarating in-your-face inventiveness and plenty of robust, swashbuckling energy, the crafty condensation of Stevenson’s classic works surprisingly well.
The story, though stripped down a bit, is quite faithful to the book, with the exception of a few lady pirates thrown in here and there—something that might have shocked Robert Louis Stevenson and possibly some of the pirates.
The strong, versatile cast is led by a grounded, impressively non-cartoonish John Rathjen as Long John Silver, often played a bit too over the top, but not here.
In this production, the whole cast slips gracefully in and out of dozens of characters. Animated projections combine with cleverly adaptable set pieces to turn the stage into a ship’s decking with rolling waves over the stern, to an island jungle filled with waving foliage. The effects works well, and if some of the book’s detail and depth of character are swept overboard in the process of translation, the loss is more than made up for in sense of rollicking, high-spirited, double-crossing, sword-clashing fun the able-bodied cast and crew bring to the stage.
Translating the beloved 2001 French comedy Amélie to the stage is a different kind of trick altogether, and turning it into a musical only makes the challenge harder. But with a book by Craig Lucas—he wrote the play Prelude to a Kiss—and with lovely, ethereal tunes by Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen, this supremely satisfying adaptation—directed with immense creativity by Tony-winner Pam MacKinnon—is a sweet, sneaky surprise of a show.
As Amélie, the café worker who sets out to make the world a happier place, Samantha Barks is everything an Amélie should be—beautiful, sweet, a little wacky, and thoroughly beguiling.
There is a marvelously whimsical sense of innocence in the play, even when incorporating such things as sex shops and orgasms, and the story’s transformation into a musical—rather than proving distracting or cluttered—is so deftly done you might think that the story of Amelie and her bumpy road to finding her own true happiness, was always meant to become a musical.
If anything, it’s become better this way.
And that’s not an easy trick to pull off.
‘Treasure Island’ runs Thursday–Sunday through October 4 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, www.spreckelsonline.com
‘Amelie’ runs Tuesday–Sunday through October 11 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, www.berkeleyrep.org