THEATER REVIEW: “Big River” @ Oldcastle Theatre Co. [Berkshire on Stage]
Theater review by Gail M. Burns
I am on record several times over with my loathing of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which I generally refer to as “two-thirds of a great novel,” and I didn’t like Big River the first time I saw and reviewed it many years ago, but Oldcastle Theatre Co. has done the impossible and CHANGED GAIL BURNS’ MIND!! Thanks to the directorial vision of director/choreographer Tim Howard and his very talented cast, I finally see and accept this story for the ground-breaking piece of anarchy that it is.
The last third of Mark Twain’s novel remains an embarrassment, but the reason the rest of the story soars is the central relationship of Huck and Jim as they glide down the Mississippi on that raft. Two outsiders – a runaway slave and an orphaned lower class boy who are, as composer/lyricist Roger Miller so aptly writes, “Worlds Apart” – on a grand adventure. And while all of this production is fine and entertaining, the show really takes wing during the song “Muddy Water” when Huck and Jim hit the river. Here Howard and lighting designer Scott Cally bring Dan Courchaine’s previously spare set to vivid life as the raft rolls and the waters of the Mississippi swirl around it and Huck and Jim’s hopes are so high and yet so close that they can reach out and touch them…
Anthony J. Ingargiola simply IS Huckleberry Finn, portraying the character’s vulnerability as well as his much touted tough and mischievous sides with energy, humor, and a fine voice. Huck has not had an easy life, and, now that he is about 14, society is expecting him to start taking on adult responsibilities. Reji Woods is a gentle Jim, patiently schooling Huck that “Slaves Lives Matter” while steadfastly focused on his goal of gaining his own freedom and reuniting his family.