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Forest Moon Theater, the little theatre company of Wake Forest, is currently running the stage adaptation of the novel Anne of Green Gables, which was published in 1908 by author L. M. Montgomery. This adaptation of the original novel (there are eight total) covers Anne's original adoption by the Cuthberts and her success in school in Avonlee, on the Island of Prince William in Canada. The play covers Anne's years in Avonlee from her arrival at age 11 to her high school graduation at age 17. Peter DeLaurier adapted the novel for the stage.
Presenting the town of Avonlee during this time requires double-casting of many of the students who come to befriend Anne in her new home. Young Anne is played by Elly Boldizar, who sports the required red-haired pigtails. Her best friend is Young Diane Berry (Ellie Manfreda), and many of the other students include Young Jane Andrews (Coco Damann-Meldau), Young Moody McPherson (Anna Irvin), and Young Gilbert Blythe (James Stewart). Their teacher, Miss Stacy, is played by Christine Nash. Anne has mistakenly been sent by the adoption agency to the Cuthberts, Marilla (Tracy Weckman) and her brother Matthew (Wayne Bustoft), who had requested a boy to aid them in tending their farm. There is a real moment during which Marilla is dead set against keeping Anne, but her soft-hearted brother convinces her that Anne should become their adopted charge.
In Act II, the children have grown up, and there is a running contest at school as to who will become the winner of the highest award for academia, Anne (Abby Jordan) or Gilbert Blythe (Michael Southern). While Gilbert wins out by a nose, Anne is awarded a scholarship to continue her education to become a teacher. Her plans to go away to school, however, are spoiled by the sudden death of Matthew, which would leave Marilla alone on the farm if Anne were to go away. It is decided between the two that Anne will remain in Avonlee to help Marilla and go off to school after another year. Gilbert Blythe, who has been awarded teachership at the school where he and Anne have just graduated, instead chooses to teach out-of-town and recommends that the school be handed to Anne as teacher.
Rachel (Louise Farmer), a good friend of Marilla's, is of the opinion that young ladies do not require advanced schooling. Marilla patiently explains that Anne is the exception, and that her education will make her a better teacher. Rachel scoffs, as most ignorant people do.
Forest Moon's Tony Pender directs Anne of Green Gables on the rather narrow stage set of the Renaissance Center in downtown Wake Forest. Backing the stage is a lovely pastoral backdrop that represents the hills and glens of Avonlee. Various stage pieces denote various sites on Avonlee: a table and chairs for the Cuthbert Farm, a counter and vanity for Rachel's Dry Goods store.
The narrowness of the stage at the Renaissance Center makes for a difficult time in staging, because there is a lot of coming and going. Pender has made use of the area in front of the stage, and has the children running willy-nilly in front of the stage as well as on it. This has made it easier to avoid the in-a-single-line staging that would otherwise be necessary for so small of a stage.
The cast was a bit on the staid side opening night and could have done nicely with a shot of enthusiasm. Noted exceptions were Abby Jordan as Anne herself and Michael Southern as Gilbert, who was also focused and on top of his game. Special kudos go out to Wayne Burtoft as Matthew; of all the characters on stage, Burtoft's was the most solid and concrete. From his gentle accent to the way he wore his hat, Burtoft was Matthew, down to his balding pate and white beard. Of all the roles on stage, I enjoyed Matthew the most.
There were a few gaffes technically, like lights popping up instead of slowly coming up, but that's just a feature of doing the show at the Renaissance Center, which is not designed for stage plays. If and when Forest Moon is able to find a traditional theater space, these types of glitches should disappear.
In an area like the Triangle, where stage presentation is amazingly strong and professional, even in nonprofessional houses, Forest Moon is another kind of theatre, the truly Community Theatre, which allows "ordinary folk" to get out and play a role, commit to an art form, and ply their art on the boards. These shows bring in actors and technical crews from all over, as far away as Raleigh, and at all levels of acting experience, from those who are long-time actors to those who are working in their first play. Anne of Green Gables sports its fair share of both, in a concerted effort to bring a live performance to the stage. It was a wonder to watch.
Anne of Green Gables continues through Sunday, March 19. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.