Three actors are reviving the story of raft-fording companions Huck Finn and Jim in director Greg Banks’ adaptation of the classic novel this month.
Banks’ adaptation of Mark Twain’s story stars Ansa Akyea, Dean Holt and Reed Sigmund, along with a bluegrass duet. The play premiered at Children’s Theatre Company and toured regionally in 2006. This week, “Huck Finn” returns for another run during the Children’s Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season.
Sigmund said the show’s low-tech format allows the actors to engage with the audience.
“We’re embodying all these different characters, [and] there’s moments where we speak directly to the audience,” Sigmund said. “It’s really unique the way it’s done; it’s this technique that really helps the story be the star of the show.”
Banks’ other children’s adaptations include “Robin Hood,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Antigone” and “Pinocchio.” But compared to other scripts, he said, “Huck Finn’s” story is written “beautifully.”
“I don’t say that about everything I adapt,” Banks said. “‘Huck Finn’ is a delight with that.”
The show’s plot resembles that of the original novel. Slavery and racial conflict is depicted, as well as themes of friendship, nonconformity and youth.
“I think Mark Twain and the way we’re telling the story also tell a deeper truth about our humanity, and the way we can relate to each other,” Akyea said. “[The plotline shows] when slavery is happening in America. [The show is] an occasion to confront an issue and the truth about this country in a really creative and smart way.”
Schools have challenged and banned “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” since its publication, but Holt said those negative perceptions add extra charge to the story.
He said families ask him about the story’s appropriateness for children considering its language, specifically the N-word. He said the show veers away from the novel’s original colloquialisms while staying true to the story.
In addition to historical themes, the piece emphasizes the benefits of using one’s imagination.
“I think a skill that’s really needed is an attitude and a willingness to play,” Akyea said.
Sigmund plays nine characters, while Akyea plays three others, as well as the role of Jim. Holt only plays Huck Finn.
As part of his nine roles, Sigmund embodies things like the Mississippi River or a steamboat. He said he channels the nonhuman entities by assigning them characteristics; for example, he views the steamboat as a very bold, stubborn character.
“The big challenge with this thing is capturing that youth and energy,” Holt said, adding that the presence of children onset helps him get into character. “It’s also a good way of connecting with the younger side of your soul that’s there.”
Sigmund said he values the trust and sense of play he shares with Banks and his co-actors.
“The whole process is full of moments of creativity, and surprise and laughter, and sometimes confusion in not knowing quite what to do — and that’s the nature of the whole beast,” Banks said of the rehearsal process.
Banks said the show’s plotline includes lessons for audiences to discover.
“It’s hard to know what young ones might take away. I’d like to think they might be lost in the world we create,” Banks said. “I’m trusting my own integrity to make something that speaks honestly about the world.”
What: “Huck Finn”
Where: Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 S. Third Ave., Minneapolis
When: March 3rd – April 4th
Cost: $10 – 58