Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
(Boston, MA) Lyric Stage’s production of Big River celebrates the imagination of Mark Twain. Based on the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the show explores the American landscape of the 1800’s. The production shines a light on the various forms of humanity that Twain observed in his own travels. His words come alive through a rousing score, talented cast, and innovative staging.
Big River lets Huckleberry Finn step right out of the novel and onto the stage. The audience travels along with Huck and Jim down the Mississippi River. Mark Twain himself could not have picked a perfect Huck than Jordan Ahnquist. Ahnquist’s sincere performance evokes the innocence and confusion of a young country. Ahnquist’s Huckleberry Finn struggles between what he was taught is “right” and what he feels is “right”. Although he does get swept away in his adventures, he always ends up seeing the reality of the situation: the beauty and hypocrisy of human nature. Along this journey, Huck’s guide and friend is the runaway slave Jim played by De’Lon Grant. De’Lon Grant gives Jim strength and steadiness to stay by Huck’s side even at the risk of his own safety and freedom.
Although they are only ancillary figures, each member of the cast provide a fully developed picture of Huck’s adventures. Peter A. Carey and J.T. Turner portray the shifty Duke and King who try to take advantage of every person they meet. Erica Spyres portrays the innocent and beautiful Mary Jane Wilkes. Huck helps her to recognize the chicanery of the Duke and King and inadvertently falls “in like” with her. The rest of the ensemble enrich the deep bluegrass and gospel songs within the show. The production provides a complete picture of antebellum America.
Janie E. Howland’s simple set of planks provides a perfect canvas for each of the episodes of Huck’s journey. Heightening the visual depth are projections across the backdrop designed by Seaghan McKay. The projection of the river is particularly effective and truly simulates the motion as if the audience is traveling with Huck and Jim. Although the show is episodic, the staging flows seamlessly with cohesive staging by Spiro Veloudos.
The heartwarming tale of Huckleberry Finn comes alive through the strong cast and production. The honest portrayal of his characters brings Mark Twain’s classic story to life. Humanity’s flaws and triumphs can be seen on the Lyric Stage through October 8th.