Tom Arvetis, Adventure Stage’s founder and Artistic Director, has lovingly adapted Sharon Creech’s Newberry Award winning novel into a moving, straightforward play for all ages. Matthew Reeder skillfully directs a talented cast of nine, who portray all of Creech’s lovable, offbeat characters in a coming-of-age tale of forgiveness and acceptance. Salamanca Tree Hiddle (Sal to her family and friends), narrator of both the novel and the play, drives the action and offers her adolescent insight to the events and the behavior of those around her.
The play unfolds like an onion, revealing layers of plot that become intertwined: Sal coming to terms with her mother’s sudden departure, the mysterious disappearance of her friend Phoebe’s mother and Sal’s cross-country road trip with her grandparents. Along the way, Sal entertains her Gram and Gramps with the tale of Phoebe, while coming to terms with death, loss, grief, cultural identity, relationships, women’s roles as wives and mothers and so many other themes.
Playing a teenager is tricky for adult actors, but Tanya McBride (as the thoughtful Sal) and Baize Buzan (her imaginative friend, Phoebe) master all the awkwardness, exuberance and wonder of adolescence. They nicely complement each other, offering energy and honesty, especially with Creech’s folksy, yet eloquent dialogue. Sandy Elias and Millicent Hurley are charmingly feisty as Sal’s grandparents and Joe Zarrow lovingly creates Sal’s down-to-earth father as well as her enthusiastic teacher, Mr. Birkway. Simon Lashford’s set is simple yet versatile, dominated by a massive tree that plays an important part in this moving story about life lessons. In particular, Sal learns that you “don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins,” a message audiences will take with them.