You know you're attending children's theater when the director announces the location of the restrooms 10 minutes before curtain.
You know it may be a long two hours if the 14 children in the cast are more cute than competent.
Yet "Tom Sawyer," at the Pasadena Theatre Company, does have some nice moments and, surprisingly, two solidly enjoyable professional performances.
Adult actors Tom Nibley and Russel Lutz add substance to what otherwise might be dismissed as featherweight entertainment, despite its good intentions.
Lutz, as town drunk Muff Potter, makes the most of every befuddled moment and Nibley is comically despotic as the schoolmaster (he also makes a brief appearance as the unfortunate Dr. Robinson).
Less successful elements include superfluous musical interludes and a disconcertingly cherubic Huckleberry Finn (Matt Lundy).
But director Beverly Bishop's compaction of Mark Twain's classic tale retains a certain earthiness--and a small shiver in the dark.
Warning: Injun Joe (John Wilusz) exudes menace, and the well-staged murder scene is sufficiently effective that the youngest members of the audience may need reassurance that the "victim" is still alive. (Twain never meant his work to be comfortable establishment fare.)
Although most of the unseasoned youngsters in the cast are happy just to deliver their lines, Greg Moore as Tom comes close to the rough-around-the-edges, good/bad boy who doesn't always mean well underneath his mischief. But he too is unable to indicate more than surface emotion.
Moore and Lundy not only don't communicate the terror that Tom and Huck felt in witnessing a violent death, worse, they seem unmoved by it. Other meaningful moments are lost as well, through the cast's inexperience or the director's inattention.
However, Bishop has seen to it that the language, if not the sequence of events, remains loyal to Twain, and much of the antiquated slang ("By jingoes, won't that be gay"), which could be ludicrous, instead seems pleasantly natural. Prerecorded narration by Jack Marlando as Twain fills in the gaps.
Final performances at 1406 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena, are Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., (818) 797-6384.