Anne of Avonlea: A Comforting Look at a Long Ago Time (That May Have Never Existed)
Photo courtesy of Bara Photography Joy Spence as Anne and Jason Hatcher as Gilbert in Anne of Avonlea, at A. D. Players
Anne of Green Gables, by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, was published in 1901. It is a children's book that has sold more than 50 million copies, and has been translated into 20 languages. Anne of Green Gables - the Musical, has been performed annually on Canada's Prince Edward Island since the summer since 1964, making it Canada's longest-running main stage musical production. Author Montgomery wrote six sequels, and the first of these, Anne of Avonlea, covers protagonist Anne Shirley at the age of 16 to 18. Adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette, it is presented by the A. D. Players.
This is a main stage production, although it clearly belongs in the category of children's theater. It is simplistic, and paints a portrait of a charming world where good things happen, problems are resolved, and all is the best in the best of all possible worlds - especially when a girl marries a guy, and thus escapes the derogatory description of "old maid".
The phrase "adapted for the stage" may be overly generous, as this work is reminiscent of a staged reading, or even readings from a book, acted out. Anne (played with a "Golly, gee" good-natured affability by Joy Spence) frequently comes downstage center to address the audience, and tell us what is happening in Avonlea. Though there are references to other cities, the great world beyond doesn't seem to exist.
The events in Avonlea, and in Anne's late-teens life, are relatively trivial: a cow gets into a neighbor's oats, a meeting room is painted the wrong color, and male children misbehave. Anne gets a job teaching, and we see her at work. A rebellious student, Anthony, is played by a girl (Olivia Swasey), I assume in order to give an A.D. Players student some stage experience, but it undermines the goal of creating illusion. Jason Hatcher plays fellow-teacher Gilbert, with whom Anne shares a burgeoning relationship, and he is excellent. His wife, Katharine Hatcher, plays Mrs. Harrison, and adds class and sophistication.
Patty Tuel Bailey portrays Marilla, who has taken in the orphaned Anne. She is authentic and can deliver a line, whether humorous or dramatic, with telling authority. She is the best thing in the production, though child actor Eli Go, playing Davy, a mischievous twin, is a close second - he is engaging and provides verve and spirit. I liked Chip Simmons as Mr. Richrdson, Stephanie Bradow is sweet as Miss Lavandar Lewis, and Megan Jackson is energetic as Charlotta. Jesse Merrill adds authenticity to the role of Fred Wright, a contemporary of Anne. Several actors play multiple roles.
This is simple fare, so come prepared to be underwhelmed. It is not really theater, as the events are often described, and only sometimes acted out. But it clearly serves an entertainment function - the audience on a Sunday afternoon consisted primarily of very senior adults. In pondering its appeal - there is considerable low-key humor - it struck me that this is perhaps the way the world should be, behind a white picket fence, and what we have here is nostalgia for a simpler world - one that never existed, of course, except in our imagination. And on the stage of the A.D. Players. Sarah Cooksey directed, and keeps the events flowing.
A simple story is acted out, and in part related, of sweet, honest people with admirable aspirations, in a world of gentleness and good luck, where problems are resolved by marriage.
Anne of Avonlea continues through August 18, A. D. Players, Grace Theater, 2710 W. Alabama. For information or ticketing, call 713-526-2721 or contact www.adplayers.org.