By Bridgette M. Redman
When you have a strong asset, you're going to use it. Especially when that asset has proved repeatedly she's up to whatever is asked of her.
What A Do Theatre has such a treasure in the person of high school student Averi Beck. Her presence in their company means they can confidently put such shows as "Anne of Green Gables" in their lineup and know that they'll have a seasonal hit.
It's somewhat of a risk, as Alice Chadwicke's adaptation of the L.M. Montgomery classic novel is a lengthy show all set in a single interior set with some of the more active moments taking place off stage. Anyone playing the title role of Anne must have the vocal stamina to talk with high energy and enough variation to keep the audience engaged.
Beck does this. From the moment she is first dragged on stage at the orphanage, she overflows with energy and speeds through her lines without ever stumbling on them or making them sound garbled. After the show, an audience member said they could listen to her talk for hours. She has that charisma and joie de verve, the kind that invites people to love her.
She shows up in Green Gables of Avonlea and manages to turn everyone's life upside down while winning their hearts. She turns everyone into "kindred spirits" with her over-sized vocabulary and yeti-sized imagination.
Given the way Chadwicke adapted this script, it is a story that is as much about Marilla Cuthbert, the spinster living with her brother Matthew who adopts the girl. Stacy Little's Marilla is cold and stern, made of down-to-earth, no-nonsense stuff, but Little manages to find the humanity in her and create a woman that we like and want to see won over to Anne's charms.
This is one of those challenging scripts where characters are described in detail before we meet them, giving the actors narrow confines in which to perform.
In this period piece, director Randy Wolfe gives his actors plenty of room to play without stepping outside what the script demands. Rachel Markillie has a great deal of fun with her gasping and supposed inability to talk. Hunter King's Moody Spurgeon is a yokel-like farm boy, and Grace VanHorn's Josie Pye is insufferably nosy, delighting in the misfortunes of her classmates.
Wolfe also manages to keep people moving on the very long stage that is rarely populated by more than a handful of people. It's a show that could easily drag if it weren't for the energy of Beck and the charm of characters such as Dave Stubbs' Matthew Cuthbert who can never give a straight answer to anything, but has more spine than he lets on.
It's a classic, old-fashioned play with its cast of 13, period costumes by Nancy King, and a script heavy in exposition and description. With its length, it has the potential to drag, but Wolfe and his cast ensure that it is constantly moving, interacting well with each other and keeping up the pacing. They even manage to handle well an ending that works too hard to tie things up with a deus ex machine where one wasn't needed.
As such, this holiday production of the orphaned girl who finds herself a home and manages to change the lives of those around her, makes for a great family night out.
'Anne of Green Gables'
What A Do Theatre
4071 W. Dickman Road, Springfield
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19
3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13 (half-price matinee)
8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, 20
2 hours, 39 minutes