Anne Shirley is a powerful character. First brought to life by L.M. Montgomery in her 1908 novel, the stories of the precocious redhead have been adapted into films, radio productions, television movies, animated series', web productions, and several stage productions. One of those that appears on stage is Joseph Robinette's Anne of Green Gables, presented by TBA Theatre, and directed by Colby Bleicher, which opened last weekend at APU Grant Hall.
Brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are looking forward to meeting the young orphan boy that they are adopting to help at their farm, Green Gables. The Cuthberts quiet and routine lives are disrupted by the accidental delivery of a girl. Anne is smart, spirited, and outspoken, with a talent for getting into trouble. Soon Anne wins over not only the Cuthberts, but the other residents of the town of Avonlea as well. Anne begins to develop friendships, experience adventure, make mistakes, and find success on her journey from troubled child, to joyful adult.
The title character is portrayed with impressive skill by Morgan Stratton, who in her 2 hours on stage portrays the exuberant and excitable 11 year old version of Anne that opens the show, with the same confidence and believability that she gives to the more mature 16 year old who commands the audience's attention at the end. Stratton completely understood the characters dramatic and desperate approach to life, and threw herself whole hearted into the role, as surely (wink) as Anne does into life. Her projection and diction were exact, and the audience could understand every word she spoke clearly, even when she was speaking quickly, as her character does often.
The entire group does an amazing job on stage but attention should be drawn to Kelly Wilson as Rachel Lynde, who in addition to being the town busybody is also Marilla Cuthberts best friend, and the first person Anne offends when she arrives at Green Gables. Wilson brings charm to the role, and makes her like-able and sweet. The Barry sisters Minnie May and Diana are played by Bronwyn Brune and Bronwyn Embree respectively. There must be something in a name because both of these young actors are perfectly suited for their roles as Anne's “bosom” friend and her little sister. Embree in particular has a knack for these type of roles and succeeds every time she is cast in one. The younger actors in the ensemble were all excellent in their scenes portraying Anne's friends, schoolmates, and sometime tormentors like Gilbert Blythe (Matt Mahoric).
This show has a cast of 27 actors portraying over 30 characters. The actors range in age from pre-teen to adult, and Bleicher has done a fantastic job of never making the stage feel crowded or a scene too busy. Part of that comes of course from the fantastic stage that is to be found in APU Grant Hall, but also from the impressive and open scenic design by Rachael Androski. The entire show takes place without there being any set changes except those accomplished by the moving of a few benches. Androski is just one member of the all female production team that has taken on the story of this smart, bold, and accident prone girl.
Praise also needs to be delivered to Brigette Hoffman for the costume design. With a cast this large in number it must have been a daunting task to even start to clothe them all. Not only has Hoffman done it well, she has done it with proper period clothing. Set in early 1900's Canada, this show needed the costuming to be exact not just for the story, but also for the many fans of all of the television and movie adaptations of the book. It seemed as if each button and bonnet was picked by the characters themselves, and I appreciated her use of more muted tones, even for the fancy clothes, which is how it would have been at the time.
The play does not tell the entire story of Anne Shirley, not that any stage production could in only an afternoon, and not even the entire story that is told in the first of the 11 novels that Montgomery wrote about her. It does however bring the character to life in a very fun way. At the Sunday Matinee that I attended the almost capacity audience was fascinated and entertained the entire time. The diversity of the ages was even more dramatic than that of the actors, and while the younger ones may have been learning this story for the first time, and their parents, like me, may have been lifetime fans, everyone was captivated by the young Anne Shirley, who you can call Cordelia.