PROVO — The Covey Center for the Arts production of Anne of Green Gables was my first exposure to the story, having never read the book or seen the movie. While I struggled with some aspects of the production, I applaud the actors for a wonderful performance.
Anne of Green Gables tells the story of Anne Shirley, a red-headed orphan with a flair for the dramatic, who is taken in by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, a sister and brother looking for household help. We get to watch Anne’s active imagination get her in trouble and endear her to the people around her.
Anne, played by Lauren Pope, was delightful to watch. The character is highly dramatic and utterly sincere in that drama. Everything is life or death to her. If a character like that is played halfheartedly, it can be extremely uncomfortable to watch. But Pope dedicated herself to the part, and made it so much fun. One moment where this was particularly true was when Marilla (Hannah Stoehr) told Anne to apologize to Rachel Lynde (Anne Roquemore.) Mrs. Lynde called Anne skinny and red-headed, and Anne responded by calling Mrs. Lynde fat and rude. Marilla told Anne to apologize, and Anne ends up on her knees in front of Mrs. Lynde literally begging for forgiveness for about five minutes. This moment could have been awkward to watch, but Pope was so sincere in what she was doing it was just fun. She did a wonderful job making Anne so extreme but endearing.
Another performer I was impressed with was Lon Keith, who played Matthew Cuthbert. His part was not large, but every time Keith was on stage he made me smile. One fun scene with him was when he went to buy Anne a new dress. Marilla didn’t think Anne needed one, but Matthew decided otherwise. So he goes to the store, but it so uncomfortable asking to buy the dress that he sends the shopkeeper (Anne Roquemore) looking for a rake, then hay seed, then sugar before finally yelling “Dress!” Each time he asks for something, he stammers and stutters, almost asks for the dress, then veers off at the last minute. He was a sweet man that you couldn’t help liking, and showed that small parts can make or break a show. Keith very much helped make Anne of Green Gables a nice evening of entertainment.
This piece (written by Jody Johnston Davidson, directed by Lynne D. Bronson) spans a few years and many locations, including Anne’s home and school, a train station, a shop, and various places outside. It is difficult to tell the story of a few years of someone’s life without showing multiple locations, but there were so many changes in location that the piece felt choppy; it seemed like every ten minutes the lights were going down for another set change (lighting designer, Samantha Layco.) Every time the lights went out, I was pulled out of the action, and I wish there had been more continuity to the script, allowing scenes to flow together without so many distracting pauses. These breaks made it difficult to maintain momentum in the piece; each time the lights went out the energy went down. Music was played during the scene changes, which could have led from one scene to the next by maintaining the feeling of the previous scene or suggesting what the next scene might be like. But instead it seemed to be there just to cover the noise of the set change. At one point, the music sounded rather ominous, like something bad was going to happen in the next scene. But when the lights went on, Anne was complaining about geometry, which didn’t match what I was expecting based on the music. The difference between the music and the scene was jarring, and the breaks between scenes left me wondering what was important because all the scenes had similar energy levels.
Although the set changes were distracting, the set design itself (designed by Daniel James) was remarkable. The Briton Black Box Theater is a small space, but the set needed to serve as many different places without the set changes taking too long. The set fulfilled all these requirements. For example, one side of the set served as the school, with a bench and chair. But this bench was also part of the Cuthbert’s home. My favorite part of the set, however was the boat. In one scene, Anne and her friend Dianna (Eliza Allen) want to act out when Elaine’s body floats to Camelot after she dies of a broken heart. So the pull a boat out into a pond and Anne lie down in it pretending to be dead. The boat pulled out of the front of a set like a drawer; it wasn’t in the way or even visible until needed, then it slid back into place when they were done. It was a great way of dealing with the problem of a small set that needs to serve many purposes and made that scene a lot of fun with an actual boat onstage.
Despite being a little choppy with so many scene changes, I enjoyed Anne of Green Gables. It ran less then an hour and a half, and the sincerity of the performers made it enjoyable. It’s a cute show and I recommend it.