Alex Goley, playing Huckleberry Finn, a fictional character from Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in “Big River”, written by William Hauptman, is outstanding. The entire big cast, including James Monroe Iglehart, playing runaway slave, Jim and Scott Reardon, playing Tom Sawyer, do an equally superb job, in this TheatreWorks, Silicon Valley Presentation.
In this classic story, set in 1840s, Huck, the son of the town’s vagrant drunkard, “Pap” Finn, is a vagabond who is taken in by the Widow Douglas and her sister, Ms. Watson, after Huck has fallen into some money. They try to civilize Huck, believing it to be their Christian duty as captured in the lyrics, “You better learn to read and you better learn your writin’ Or you’ll never get to heaven cause you won’t know how”. Soon Huck’s father takes him back. However, Huck quickly tires of his father, perennially in a state of hallucinatory drunkenness, and Huck manages to fake his own death and escape from his father to Jackson’s Island. The child is growing up fast and he asserts his identity, “I, Huckleberry, me, Hereby declare myself to be Nothin’ ever other than Exactly what I am, And I’ll never change for no one, No matter what they say”. It is then that Huck coincidentally meets up with Jim who is running away and after a brief struggle with his conscience, Huck decides to help Jim escape slavery, even though he is certain he will go to hell, for being a abolitionist.
The rest of the story is about Huck and Jim’s adventures on the “mighty Mississippi”; “Look out for me oh muddy water your mysteries are deep and wide” and “Hell, there ain’t no way to measure Why I love you more than I did the day before”. As if, as a warning to the seriousness of their actions, a boat carrying runaway slaves back to their masters passes them in the night. As Jim and Huck try to stay hidden, they hear the defeated slaves singing, “Crossing to the other side I will worry ’bout tomorrow, When tomorrow comes in sight. Until then, Lord, I’m just a pilgrim, Crossing to the other side”. Propelled along on this journey, with unforgettable songs, Jim and Huck pick up two con men who try to swindle the heiress Mary Jane and then sell Jim. During this time, at one point, Huck plays a horrible trick on Jim by assuming the guise of a slave hunter. Jim is not amused and he rebukes Huck for his poor sense of humor, and demands an apology. This is not just a story of friendship but of freedom and human dignity. After some soul searching Huck realizes that Jim, though a black and previously served as a slave, is a human being and deserves an apology. And together, they sing, what rings true even today, “Just like the earth, just like the sun, Two worlds together are better than one. I see the friendship in you eyes, That you see in mine. But we’re worlds apart, worlds apart”. (These are my most favorite lyrics). Huck makes a plot and resolves to try to free Jim, despite all the odds stacked against him, as he sings, “once again I am waitin’ for the light to shine, I am waitin’ for the light to shine, I have lived in the darkness for so long, I’m waitin’ for the light to shine”.
The adventurous journey of two friends, with their colorful encounters with people along the Mississippi river, is beautifully captured, with lyrics sung by the talented cast, against the backdrop of absolutely superb staging. Kudos to the Stage Manager, Gregg Rehrig, for such an outstanding job. Legendary Roger Miller has delivered the essence of American history, with awesome lyrics, that are brought to life by Musical Director, William Liberatore. Robert Kelley, the Artistic Director and Phil Santora, the Managing Director have re-created this not to be missed timeless classic that celebrates the prevalence of the human spirit, against all entrenched prejudices. It is running at the beautiful Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, till December 30, 2012. For tickets and more information, go to http://www.theatreworks.org/shows/1213-season/bigriver .