Charming, chatty 'Anne of Green Gables' wins over Weston

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Weston Playhouse Theatre Company opened its 2018 summer season at its new theatrical space at Walker Farm with "Anne of Green Gables." The musical adaptation by Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer of the beloved children's novel by L.M. Montgomery is about a spunky orphan girl plopped into a new life in rural Prince Edward Island, Canada, in the 1880's. Last Friday's performance by Weston's Young Company of this sweet, unabashedly sentimental musical pulled at heartstrings as it gently reminded us of how love can conquer much, if not all.

Freckle-faced, red-headed, talkative Anne Shirley was not what siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert had in mind when they agreed to adopt an orphan. Simply put, they thought that they were getting a boy to help with chores on the farm. After a series of misadventures, Anne wins the two over, as well as the rest of the small community set in its ways. Initially bratty, Anne matures with each misstep and we eventually root for her and the woman she will become.

Grace Martini's winning portrayal of Anne was delivered without frills or irony. This naivet allowed us to cut the sometimes petulant girl some slack as she found her footing in a new home, school and life. Martini's clear singing voice served the role well.

Just as Martini had to portray someone much younger, David Alea and Marissa Hecker, as Matthew and Marilla Cuthburt, were charged with playing siblings in their early sixties. This they do. Neither sugarcoats his or her interpretation of souls locked into routine, who open their hearts to Anne.

Cole Wachman played Gilbert Blythe, the boy next door who fancies Anne but cannot get a word in edgewise or, seemingly, right. Wachman's portrayal of the straightforward, if nonplussed, Gilbert made us root for him, too.

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Megumi Nakamura was empathetic as Diana, Anne's new best "bosom friend." Liv Nurmi held her own as the uppity neighbor, Rachel Lynde. Bella Muller was convincing as the vacant Josie Pye as well as Diana's stern, narrow-minded mother. Matthew Pitts rounded out the cast, pulling triple-duty as Anne's schoolmaster, the postmaster and the local physician. All exhibited a grace in simple dances and moves staged by director Tim Fort and associate director Piper Goodeve. Many, no doubt, will be featured in "West Side Story" later this season.

For those well-acquainted with the limitations of Weston's former alternative stage at the Weston Rod and Gun Club, the theater at Walker Farm is most welcome. The raked seating is very comfortable and offers clear sight lines. Moreover, the greater thrust stage area and high ceiling allowed the construction of the realistic home setting and skyline by scenic designer Charlie Corcoran, with a railroad sign lowered and raised from above. Lighting designer Michael Giannitti was able to dim the kitchen while focusing on the action elsewhere, maintaining the show's brisk pace.

One small caveat: Music director J. Kathleen Castellano's keyboard play behind audience members rather than backstage was overpowering for patrons seated stage left —something to be addressed as the run continues.

Afternoon performances of "Anne of Green Gables," which runs just one very quick hour and ten minutes, continue through June 30 at Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, just a stone's throw north on Route 100 from Weston Village. For ticket information, call the WPTC box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit its website at www.westonplayhouse.org.

Kevin O'Toole writes about theater for the Journal.


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