Canadian classic is youthful and charming at ALT
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, March 1, 2012
Even if you weren’t a redheaded orphan girl brought up on a farm near the turn of the 20th century, Anne of Green Gables will likely remind you of your childhood—of best friends, the realm of make believe and accidental drunkenness.
In the L.M. Montgomery book and the play it inspired, sister and brother Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert have decided to adopt a boy to work on their farm. Neither of them ever married or had children of their own, and as the candles on their cakes start to multiply, they like the idea of a strong young back around to help chop wood. The two send for the boy from an orphanage, but when Matthew arrives at the train station to pick him up, he discovers a particularly eager and loquacious girl instead. This is Anne Shirley.
Of course, Anne woos austere Marilla and flummoxed Matthew with her wonder, rapid-fire questions and bright-red braids. The rest of the story serves as a window into Anne’s somewhat ordinary yet entertaining life. She goes to school and is at first an outcast, at least until she befriends beautiful Diana Barry. She excels in her studies but then refuses to return to class when she’s singled out by a strict teacher. She nurses a small child back to health. Anne is brave, smart, silly, stubborn and immeasurably starry-eyed, and that’s why people love her, both from within the play and from our seats.
Anne’s lovable character, and her embodiment of qualities we recognize in ourselves, is also why the story has endured since the book it all sprang from was published in 1908. In addition to being turned into a play, Anne of Green Gables has been made into two films, seven TV movies (most famously, the 1985 version starring Megan Follows) and four TV series.
Albuquerque Little Theatre’s version of the play is surprisingly good. Surprisingly because this is the first acting appearance for a number of the show’s 30-plus cast members, youth and adult alike. Most actors are obviously green, but there’s a charm that radiates throughout the whole production, making it a pleasure to watch. Megan Shields plays Anne, and she is pure enthusiasm. That energy molds to her character, making it difficult to move your eyes from her when she’s onstage. But Shields has more than that going for her. She’s really funny, and that humor infuses the play with a kind of ease not normally found in productions populated by so many amateurs.
Marilla and Matthew are played by Angela Robinson and Jeff Hudson. Both are also relatively new to the stage, and it shows. But they’re also endearing, and within the first few minutes of being introduced to their characters, you stop thinking of them as actors and just enjoy them. Natalie Shields (the star’s real-life sister) makes Anne’s best friend Diana come across perfectly—shy, sweet and giggly. It doesn’t feel like she’s acting.
The other elements of the show are put together in usual ALT fashion—the set is crisp and thoughtful, the direction by Courtney Wilgus is excellent, and the sound and lighting are fluid. This isn’t a major production, and neither is it a professional one. But ALT’s Anne of Green Gables is fun, great for the kids and a wonderful way to remember what it’s like to be brash and starry-eyed yourself.
Anne of Green Gables
Runs through March 11
Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2:30 p.m.
Albuquerque Little Theatre
224 San Pasquale SW
Tickets: $12, $10 kids 12-and-under