Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
When it was written in 1884, the Civil War was fresh in the nation’s memory, and Mark Twain’s story of the renegade youngster named Huckleberry Finn hit more than a few nerves. Slavery was still the law in many states and the relationship between Huckleberry and an escaped slave was seen as dastardly behavior. Although considered a classic American novel, Twain’s book titled The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was still firmly on the banned books list in 2009. Times change slowly.
Fortunately, Flint Youth Theatre has brought Twain’s story to the stage in a wonderful Greg Banks adaptation titled Huck Finn. Amazingly close to the book but minus the banned aspects, this 75-minute version opened Saturday to a packed house at the Elgood Theater.
Walking into the theater early, we were greeted with music played and sung by a group that could have stepped out of 1884. All of these musicians and singers were also performers in the show, but their entertaining hootenanny was a surprise and a delight.
Huck Finn focuses on the growing relationship between Huck, played with insightful brashness and strength by Brandon Hart, and the runaway slave named Jim. LaTroy Childress is perfection as Jim. He is strong, fearful, clever, loyal and always trusting in Huck’s inherent intent to do what is right.
These two carry the show with most of the action and lines belonging to them. There are times when they encounter townspeople and individuals who attempt to civilize Huck or recapture Jim, but overall they are the tellers of the tale.
FYT’s theme this season is “Finding Home”, and Huck and Jim are surely on that mission. Having been abused by his evil, drunken father, Huck is running from him as much as Jim is running from the bounty hunters who would catch and sell him.
As they float down the Mississippi toward freedom in Illinois, they encounter adventure and a couple of dangerous characters. The Duke (Bary Lehr) and the King (Mark Gmazel) hail them from shore as they are being chased out of town by dogs. These two drew loads of laughter and then stunned reaction from Saturday’s audience as they posed, postured and then tricked Huck and Jim with disastrous results.
Others who made Huck and Jim their business include Tomoko Miller, sweet and occasionally irascible as the Widow and Aunt Sally, both bent on refining Huck; Dan Gerics, menacing as Huck’s evil-intentioned father; and Danny Osborne, cute and conniving as Tom Sawyer but not always easy to hear as his lines often dropped in volume.
Director Janet Haley’s troupe is impeccable. With the tone solidly set by Hart and Childress, the audience seems perched on the banks of the river with edges of dock surrounding the playing space and Gerics’ original music and sound effects enhancing the outdoor feel.
Spend an hour or so on the Mississippi with FYT and this entertaining, educational and heartwarming production. It will be one to remember.
Huck Finn continues at the Elgood Theater through March 6 with performances Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Evenings are at 7 pm and matinees are at 2 pm. For more information contact the box office at 810-237-1530 or online at FlintYouthTheatre.org