Saturday, April 10, 2010

Notice: Deviltry and Flapdoodle on the River

Notice: Deviltry and Flapdoodle on the River

By Tom Wachunas

Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” begins with a ‘Notice,’ to wit: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” It’s a snide and ironic taunt, to be sure, if not a silly start to an icon of quintessentially American literature.

The notice also appears as a projected backdrop in the opening scene of the current production of “Huck Finn’s Story,” by Aurand Harris, and directed by Ansley Valentine at Kent State University at Stark Theatre. In fact the entire set for this production, designed by Louis Williams, is built around the projected black and white illustrations from the novel’s first edition. The stage “landscape” is comprised of low-lying platforms dotted with benches that can double as rocks, a canoe paddled down the Mississippi, or walls of a cabin. Call it a utilitarian but elegant study in gray-toned minimalism. All of the play’s real color and panache is left for the eight cast members to deliver, and they do so with infectious verve.

Anthony Antoniades turns in a steady performance as Huck – an effective mix of pure boyishness tinged with just the right dose of mischievous charm. As the story progresses, Antoniades’ reading of Huck’s crisis of conscience over what to do about the runaway slave, Jim, becomes increasingly genuine and poignant.

Mack Valencia is a fascinating and refreshing casting choice for the role of Jim. He’s well-directed here to eschew the stereotyped portrait of a sonorous, towering or muscle-bound fugitive. Instead, we see a man who gleefully echoes Huck’s ardent youthfulness, vulnerability, and impetuous naivete, made all the more sturdy by the bonds of loyalty and friendship.

Even in this condensed form of distilled scenes from the novel, Aurand Harris’ play successfully recapitulates the story’s flow, including its more hilarious and absurd passages. In that regard, the actors in this production are amply suited to the task. Particularly noteworthy are Jerimie Newcomb and Jason Baasten as the conspiring Duke and King, respectively, delivering monumentally funny portraits of inept, greedy charlatans. And for the brief time she is on stage as Huck’s Aunt Sally, Debra Duncan is nonetheless memorable for her quirky, ebullient doting.

In the end, if all the shenanigans and treacheries that transpire in this classic tale are what Huck can expect to see as a “grown-up” in the “sivilized” world, he lets us know that he and Jim will have none of it. They’d both be happier and better off roaming the river, free from such hypocrisies. We, on the other hand (Mark Twain’s cautionary notice notwithstanding), need not fear prosecution, banishment, or worse, for savoring our immersion in the motive, moral, and plot of this play so skillfully and delightfully presented here.

Photo: Anthony Antoniades (left) as Huck Finn, Mack Valencia as Jim

“Huck Finn’s Story” in the Fine Arts Theatre at Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton. Shows on Saturday, April 10 at 8p.m., Sunday April 11 at 2:30p.m., Friday April 16 and Saturday April 17 at 8p.m., Sunday April 18 at 2:30p.m.
Tickets $10 for adults, $5 for non-Kent State students, seniors and children under 17. Free for Kent students with current student I.D. Call (330) 244 -3348, Monday – Friday 1p.m. to 5p.m. for reservations and group rates.

For other reviews of the performing and visual arts in greater Canton, visit ARTWACH at

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