NORTH CRAWFORD - ‘Treasure Island’ was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883, and was so popular when first published that it has become the foundation of all things we consider ‘pirate-y’. An example is the song ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ that was invented by Stevenson for the story, although later expanded by another author into the full song we know today. Another example is the ‘pirate accent’, which is derived from the accent found in Bristol, where Stevenson set the book, but actual pirates simply spoke with whatever accent they grew up speaking.
The story has been retold countless times as books, plays, movies, video games, and every other entertainment medium. When the students in this cast were asked what version of ‘Treasure Island’ they had seen, the most common answers were ‘Muppet Treasure Island’ and ‘Treasure Planet’, both very entertaining versions of the story that remain fairly true to the basic storyline.
However, Arthur M. Jolly, the author of 'Long Joan Silver', after seeing numerous productions of 'Treasure Island', realized that there was only one female character in the original story and she wasn’t named. Occasionally, a woman might be added to the cast as a female pirate, but was always shoehorned into the role without considering how a female pirate could exist in the first place.
To remedy these issues, Jolly wrote 'Long Joan Silver' with an all-female pirate crew and used comedy and verbal sparring to show how the society of 1750’s England would react to women living well outside their traditional roles, all the while taking us on the wild adventure that is at the heart of ‘Treasure Island.’ He specifically states in his notes that the directors should feel free to ignore the gender of the actors for the various roles they will be playing, which was taken to heart with a cast comprising nearly all girls.
The story opens with Sally Bones (Nyah Forkash), a former pirate captain, singing and drinking all of the rum at the Admiral Benbow Inn, which is owned and operated by Mrs. Hawkins (Elissa Erickson), who pushes her son Jim (Katie Schellhorn) out to confront Sally Bones about her drinking...and her bill. We learn that Sally Bones has Jim on the lookout for a sea-faring woman with one leg and her cutthroat crew, so Captain Bones can stay out of their hands.
After paying her bill for the next month with gold, Sally goes to her room and we meet the other patrons of the Inn, including Squire Trelawney (Liam O’Brien) and Doctor Livesey (Emma Schmidt). They all agree that it isn’t right that Sally Bones is drinking up all of the rum and leaving none for anyone else, so they concoct a plan to scare her into sobriety, involving Doctor Livesey pretending to be the one-legged female pirate of whom Sally Bones is deathly afraid.
During their planning, Blind Pew (Gabby Bansberg), one of the cutthroat pirates from Sally Bones’ past, arrives at the Benbow Inn and tries to force Jim to lead her to Sally Bones, but is foiled by the presence of the other patrons. Blind Pew leaves, but promises to come back later.
The plan to stop Sally Bones from drinking all the rum works a little too well, and she dies from fright; but as she is dying, she reveals her sea chest contains a map to a vast treasure of £700,000 ($2 billion in today’s money), which she gives to Jim, much to the irritation of Squire Trelawney.
Almost immediately after Sally Bones’ death, Blind Pew returns with the rest of the pirate crew, forcing our heroes to flee the Inn with Sally Bones’ sea chest. The pirates, furious at Sally Bones for dying before she could give them the map, proceed to tear the Inn apart looking for it.
During this time, Jim, the Doctor, the Squire, and Mrs. Hawkins, have been dragging the chest through the dark countryside until Mrs. Hawkins breaks down at the thought of the Benbow Inn being dismantled.
After a short time of searching for the map, they find it in the lining and immediately squabble about who should get the largest share of the treasure. While they do argue momentarily about whether it is ethical to own such a blood-soaked treasure acquired by villainy, money does talk and ‘finders keepers, losers weepers.’ In the end, the Squire agrees to find a ship and hire a crew, the Doctor agrees to fill out the legal forms, and Jim agrees to take only one quarter of the treasure for himself and his mother.
We next see the Squire’s servants Miss Bean (AJ Morga) and Mrs. Sitwell (RaeAnna Aspenson) hauling his chest onto the Hispaniola, the ship hired for the voyage. However, they have no crew, since Captain Smollett (Nyah Forkash) is very carefully vetting every man he hires. With the Doctor and Jim arriving shortly thereafter, the Squire is impatient to leave and wishes to hire a crew and set sail on the next tide.
To this end, the Squire has already hired a cook, to which Captain Smollett objects, but the Squire points out that the Captain said he wanted to personally vet every man, but said nothing about a woman, especially such a fine cook as Long Joan Silver (Rachel Peterson) and her Parrot (Rivyn DiPadova). Hilariously pointed banter ensues, until they are interrupted by a barrel of apples brought aboard by two of the pirates we’ve seen before, Israel Hands (McKenna Johnson) and Maria Lindsey (Alexis Sanders), whom the Squire hires on the spot.
Over the objections of Captain Smollett, the Squire tells Silver to find an entirely female crew as soon as possible, and so Silver and Jim search on the dockside as merchants flog their wares to all the sailors and pirates mingling there. Soon, Jim spots Blind Pew, who is run over by a horse and cart as she tries to flee, and Jim tells Silver that Pew was the pirate she met at the Benbow Inn. Silver pretends that she didn’t know who Pew was, but calls another pirate, Tess Morgan (Sarah Bransky), over and tells her to find a crew to sail on the Hispaniola. Tess Morgan, who is ‘dumb as a bag of rope’ nearly gives the game up, but Jim doesn’t notice, shocked once again by seeing his third death in a month.
As the pirates arrive on the ship, we meet Alan Arrow (Elissa Erickson), the hard-driving first mate whom the pirates dislike greatly, as they pack supplies aboard. We also meet Tom Redruth (Ping), the ship’s carpenter whom no one can understand, but who is able to direct the Squire to the Captain’s quarters. The secret of the voyage has been blabbed, and the entire crew knows where they are going and what they are doing, before Captain Smollett had been informed by the Squire. Needless to say, the Captain is unhappy and thinks the whole crew is composed of pirates, which we as the audience know is right. After a short sea shanty led by Bosun Gray (Nathan Zibrowski), the ship sets sail and soon after the crew throws Arrow overboard.
The rest of the story is very much like how you remember it: the apple barrel, the mutiny, the island, the fight, the treasure, and the mad hermit. The main differences are that Ol’ Ben Gunn is now Jen Gunn (Helen Carstens), and there is a great deal more comedy, rivaling even the Muppets’ version.
Another difference you may not notice is that the directing team has changed at the North Crawford Playhouse.
Joe Ferrito, a new social studies teacher at North Crawford, has taken over the role of director, with ‘Long Joan Silver’ being the first production with which he has been involved, and the first production he has directed. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in history and education from UW-Madison, and has been involved in theatre and music in some way, shape or form since middle school.
Brent Schwert has returned as assistant director, having done so with long-time director Robert Ghormley last school year. Having graduated from North Crawford in 2003, some may still remember Schwert from his time on the stage there, but he did continue theatre and music work while obtaining physics and mechanical engineering degrees and working for several years in the corporate world.
Both of them are excited for you to see the show, and have great plans for the future of the Playhouse, but are just a bit too busy with the current show to think them through and get them started. Please stay tuned for more information later this spring. However, at this time, they are happy to announce that ‘Annie’ is currently scheduled to be the musical in the fall.‘Long Joan Silver’ is running February 27, 28, and 29, at 7 p.m. There is also a matinee on February 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at the North Crawford School District Office for $7 adults and $5 students. Call 608-735-4311 for reservations. Tickets can also be purchased at the door on any night. Don’t miss it!