Mary Zimmerman’s straightforward new adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure tale is a little short on its swashbuckling.
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s seafaring coming-of-age adventure, is told from the point-of-view of inquisitive, enthusiastic young cabin boy Jim Hawkins; it was originally published as a serial in a children’s magazine before being collected in book form in 1883. Perhaps it’s an attempt to maintain a kid-friendly vocabulary that makes Mary Zimmerman’s new stage adaptation at Lookingglass feel so un–Mary Zimmerman.
The adapter-director is generally known for vivid visuals and striking theatrical metaphor, but her Treasure Island, while a wholly competent translation, lacks the kind of pomp and verve, the sheer invention that a longtime observer associates with Zimmerman’s work. Narration is provided by young master Jim (the tremendously self-possessed John Francis Babbo, who has quite a career ahead of him but whose dialect work can interfere with his diction). He takes us through each of the six chapters of Stevenson’s story, involving a ship’s voyage in search of pirate treasure that’s overtaken by actual pirates, led by one John Silver (Lawrence E. DiStasi).
There are a few physical tricks up the show’s sleeve (those prone to seasickness best stay off of Todd Rosenthal’s stage), but what little actual swordplay or physical tussling is present comes across as tentative and clunky (no fight choreographer is credited) and the storytelling is surprisingly rote. There’s nothing really wrong with this version of Treasure Island; there’s just nothing very thrilling about it, either.
Lookingglass Theatre Company. By Robert Louis Stevenson. Adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.