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YO HO! : Irvine's Theatrefaire for Children Buckles Its Swash to an Ambitious 'Treasure Island'

March 19, 1992|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

Leaving a snug harbor to sail uncharted seas may be the stuff of great literature, but in the current economic climate it's a pretty risky business. Nonetheless, that's the course plotted by Theatrefaire for Children, a family theater company based for the past decade at Irvine Valley College. Fittingly, the company will mark its first venture as an independent troupe this weekend with Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure classic, "Treasure Island," at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

"Treasure Island," adapted by Timothy Mason and directed by Theatrefaire co-founder Blake Gould, follows the exploits of young Jim Hawkins (played by 13-year-old Tyler Morgan Condon), who embarks on a dangerous journey with the infamous one-legged pirate Long John Silver (Leo Knudson) and his dastardly crew in a quest for buried treasure.

Liberally sprinkled with flashing sabers and the blast of muskets, Theatrefaire's action-filled version "captures the original intention of Robert Louis Stevenson," promised Gould, who plans a Southern California tour of the show next spring.

To heighten the spectacle, and to reinforce the play's literary roots, Gould has worked with his team of resident designers to create costumes, sets, props and lighting that work together to recall N. C. Wyeth's "Treasure Island" illustrations for Scribner Books.

"Wyeth's pictures are one of the things I remember most from reading 'Treasure Island' as a boy," said Gould. "There was just something about the look, those muted colors, those scurvy dogs that made the story seem so real.

"This is the tallest cast I've ever directed; the average height is about 6 feet," continued Gould. "When they stand on stage in these incredible costumes, they literally look like they've stepped right off the page."

Set designer Wally Huntoon, who created the rambling, rustic pierside that was one of the highlights of Theatrefaire's 1991 production of "Tom Sawyer," has designed four distinct settings for "Treasure Island." Audiences will follow Jim from his initial meeting with the mysterious sea captain at the Admiral Benbow Inn to his pitched battle with the devilish Israel Hands (Johnny D. Riley) high in the rigging of the "Hispaniola."

At 35 feet long with a mast that tops out at 20 feet, the ship is one of the most elaborate set pieces ever featured in a Theatrefaire show, and reflects the high measure of authenticity Theatrefaire has attempted to bring to the production, said Gould, who also serves as the director of the drama department at Irvine High School.

For example, to create historically correct rigging and lines for the square-rigged Hispaniola, Gould called upon fellow IHS teacher Bob Smirl, a volunteer for the Orange County Marine Institute in Dana Point who is one of the chief riggers for the Pilgrim, the institute's replica of the 18th-Century brig used by Richard Henry Dana.

It might seem unwise for Theatrefaire to select such an elaborate production as "Treasure Island" as its first touring show. Until last year's debut of "Beauty and the Beast" at the Barclay, the troupe had rarely ventured outside IVC's courtyard and Forum Theatre. And with its "amicable" parting from IVC earlier this year ("We had just outgrown each other," explained Gould), the company can no longer rely on funding from the college, and must seek individual and corporate donations, including recent gifts from the Irvine Co. and Pacific Bell.

None of this seems to bother Gould and his wife/co-artistic director Charlene, who have seen the program blossom from 1982 performances of Moliere's "A Doctor in Spite of Himself," at which actors often outnumbered the audience, to a well-attended three-show season last year.

The Goulds, who have modeled Theatrefaire's growth in part after Minnesota's renowned Children's Theatre Company (Mason's "Treasure Island" script, in fact, was commissioned by CTC in 1978), plan to bring the show to four Southern California sites in April, 1993.

Past shows created for Theatrefaire, including "The Everyday Adventures of Harriet Handelman" and "Twin Desperadoes," are also under consideration for tours.

In addition, discussions are underway for an outdoor production in the Irvine Civic Center this summer, said Gould, as well as the eventual development of a children's festival in Irvine incorporating visual, performing and literary arts.

What: Theatrefaire for Children presents "Treasure Island."

When: Saturday, March 21, through March 29. Performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine.

Whereabouts: Exit the San Diego (405) Freeway at Culver and drive west to Campus, then turn right. The theater is located on the grounds of University of California, Irvine near the intersection of Campus Drive and Bridge Road.

Wherewithal: Tickets are $10 to $12.

Where to call: (714) 854-4646 or (714) 740-2000.

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