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'Sawyer': Salty Tale Lacks Spice

November 20, 1987|LYNNE HEFFLEY

The South Coast Repertory Young Conservatory Players kicks off its 10th season with a handsome, ambitious adaptation of Mark Twain's salty "Tom Sawyer."

Graveyards at midnight, murder, buried treasure--Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" is no namby-pamby kid story and Sara Spencer's stage version is true to the book. We see Huck's dead cat, unrepentant truancies, young love, clay pipes and tobacco, grave robbing, drunken Muff Potter, wicked Injun Joe and the fateful stabbing.

But this is the age of Rambo and Luke Skywalker, and perhaps that explains why the Players, a non-professional ensemble of 10- to 17-year-olds directed by Diane Doyle, go through their paces, surprisingly uninvolved in such spicy goings-on.

It all takes place in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Dwight Richard Odle's beautifully detailed set of wooden planks and Missouri flora is surrounded by Aunt Polly's white-washed fence. The cast wears Odle's perfect costumes, the girls in pinafores and ribbons, the boys in worn britches, dangling suspenders and clumpy, scuffed shoes. Donna Ruzika's evocative lighting expertly sets the mood.

However, Marcus Garcia's Injun Joe lacks the force to seem threatening, and Huck and Tom (Brendon Newman and Martin Noyes) seem barely shaken at witnessing murder. Emotion is missing altogether from Tom and Becky's funeral--Pat Shaw as Aunt Polly appears to take the supposed death of her nephew as a minor irritant.

If the cast doesn't believe in what's happening on stage, how can the audience?

Since its move last year from South Coast Repertory's small Second Stage to Founders Hall, the Players ensemble, graduates of South Coast's children's theater training program, has found room and support to grow.

Doyle is exploring new directions, extending the ensemble's reach. That's good. With the quality of South Coast Repertory's involvement and the obvious competence the Players possess with the fundamentals, there should be added challenges.

"Tom Sawyer" is one of the group's most serious productions to date and is also aimed at an older audience than previous productions. The Players have proved they can move around the stage and read lines. They have a chance now to dig deeper and find a little truth.

Performances continue at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, Saturday and Sunday only at 1:30 and 4 p.m. (714) 751-7827. $5.

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