Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Treasure Island
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of The Untamed Stage, Laura Osnes at Feinstein's, and The Boy from Oz, and Hamlet and Eddie's review of Enchanted April

Steven Epp and John Babbo
Photo Courtesy Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Mary Zimmerman's Treasure Island has pulled into the Berkeley Repertory's Peet Theatre and will lay anchor through June 5th. So prepare to buckle your swashes and listen to colorful pirate speech. The playwright, who has adapted The Arabian Nights and The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, is a master storyteller and, with the ingenious scenic design of a 19th century ship by Todd Rosenthal, you are in for the ride of your life. He has devised a life-size ship, with ropes and riggings, that rocks from side to side on the three-sided theatre.

Zimmerman's adaptation sticks close to Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel and most of you are familiar with the story. If you are not, here is a brief summary. The story takes place in the mid-1700s when young lad Jim Hawkins (John Babbo), who lives his mother (Kasey Foster), an innkeeper on an English seaside town, is visited one day by Billy Bones (Christopher Donahue), a very intoxicated pirate. He tells Jim to beware of a one-legged pirate. Soon after, Billy dies, but he leaves a map that points to buried treasure.

As Jim's journey begins, the town's upright citizens outfit the Hispaniola for his trip to the tropics. We then see pirates along with the infamous one-legged person, Long John Silver (Steven Epp), who has picked his own crew, along with the decent citizens on the trip. The second act explodes in a complex showdown with several mutinies and fighting with sabers and pistols. Mary Zimmerman just tells Stevenson's story simply, with poise and stylishness and a degree of restraint. It remains true to the novel.

The acting of the eleven men and one woman cast is outstanding, with some playing dual roles, including Kasey Foster. John Babbo is excellent in the role of 15-year-old Jim Hawkins. He exemplifies the determination and grit of Stevenson's teenage narrator. Christopher Donahue, who plays Billy Bones and Redruth, is pitch perfect morphing into each character. Outstanding is Steven Epp playing Long John Silver. Usually this character is played cartoonish. However, Epp finds something original by playing it as a mesmerizing and ethically ambiguous person.

Ana Kuzmanic's costumes are incredible, especially those for the pirates, who look dirty and ragged as if they crawled out of the lower reaches of society, while the upright citizens of the town look authentic in 18th century apparel.

Treasure Islandplays through June 5, 2016, at the Peet's Theatre, Berkeley Rep at 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or visit

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