September 17, 2001
Huck Finn's Story
For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.
For more information about Children's Theatre of Chalotte, please visit ctcharlotte.org.
(aired 9/21 on WFAE)|
Many parents spend hours agonizing over how to introduce their kids to difficult subjects. In one hour, Children's Theatre exposed a full house of families to the concept of slavery, the value of friendship, and the awareness that the law of the land can be interpreted arbitrarily. The show was so captivating that I couldn't tell I was in a roomful of children under the age of ten, except for the delightful humorous moments when their giggles filled the house.
Huck Finn's Story is based on Mark Twain's book, and Aurand Harris's stage adaptation. Though substantially simplified, the play stayed true to the spirit of the book. Huck is a slang speaking boy's boy who finds himself on a run of bad luck. In an act of self-preservation, he fakes his own death to escape the cruelty of his drunken father, and finds himself stranded on an island with Jim, a slave who escaped his master when he discovered she planned to sell him. Huck likes Jim, but knows he can be hung for harboring a runaway slave. Their alliance is repeatedly challenged as they row down the mighty Mississippi River on a raft.
Director April Jones made the unusual decision to cast Nicia Carla, who is a girl, as Huck. Undisguised by heavy makeup or elaborate costuming, she struck me as an asexual tom girl, with shaggy black hair and a slightly buck toothed open-mouthed grin. Children's Theatre is an intimate house, and that effect was maximized by Huck's first person narrative style, during which he/she stepped away from the other characters and addressed the audience personally. I believed that Carla was Huck, but afterward learned that some of the children were confused, especially during a scene where Huck used a dress and bonnet to disguise himself. The kids didn't understand why a girl would disguise herself as a girl.
Roger Davis played the runaway slave Jim with grace, humor and compassion. Director Jones had the foresight to utilize Davis's rich, melodic voice both as a character trait and as background music. His sonorous renditions of gospel tunes added an emotional depth to the production. Jim was concerned with two things: buying his freedom, and avoiding things that brought bad luck. Those ranged from talking about the dead to counting things before he cooked them, and provided enough humor to balance the play's more serious subjects.
As crooked and mean spirited adults repeatedly tried to swindle the boys, I was reminded of how often the wisdom of children surpasses the cluttered judgment of adults. A dad tries to steal Huck's inheritance. A pair of roadside hucksters attempt to turn in the slave and his accomplice for the reward money. And even a woman who shows Huck kindness is really just interested in him as a messenger of news from her family.
A series of interchangeable posters hanging on a fence comprised the scenery. The program was so confusing I gave up both on it, and trying to figure out who was playing whom. But after a week of horror, it was greatly satisfying to view the world through the starry eyes of two boys on an adventure, armed only with friendship.
Lynn Trenning, September 17, 2001