Published in 1908 by L. M. Montgomery, the classic Canadian book, Anne of Green Gables was transformed from book to stage by the performance of members of Eastern Michigan University’s theatre in Quirk Theatre on Friday night.
Anne of Green Gables tells the story of a red-haired, freckled orphan named Anne (Grace Supplee) who arrives to Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. She goes there to live in Green Gables with Mathew Cuthbert (Spencer Belko) and Marilla Cuthbert (Sydney Assalley), a brother and sister who upon her arrival requested a boy from an orphanage to work the farm, but have received Anne instead by mistake.
The story spans four years where we follow the imaginative and talkative Anne and her journey of growth from childhood to adulthood.
Anne of Green Gables is recognized as a musical, book series, T.V. series and various movie adaptions based from the popularity after publication. Adapted by playwright Sylvia Ashby, the EMU production of Anne of Green Gables was performed as a dramatic version of the book under the direction of Christine Smith Tanner.
After traveling to Prince Edward Island last summer, Tanner experienced the Island as Anne did when she first arrived feeling optimism, beauty and the friendliness of the people.
“The world of Anne Shirley illuminated my mind and I clearly received my own confirmation of why telling her story is important,” Tanner said in her director’s notes.
From her travels, Tanner has introduced us to the world of Anne in a new and immersive technique.
Incorporating a set design of a two-story house with the use of scenic projections set above to transition scenes (John Charles), music (Howard Cass) and early twentieth century costumes (Melanie Schuessler Bond). Tanner and the talented crew of Anne of Green Gables have brought to us an entertaining show of the beloved classic.
The music was thematic and suited for the story as well as the included nature sounds of the island, like water and the sounds of animals that were played before the show and during intermission to keep us on the island and Anne still on our minds.
The scenic projections were outstanding as it took us from the train station, to the valleys, to the ocean, to the schoolhouse and throughout the journey of Anne’s travels in the performance.
“It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting because I haven’t heard of Anne of Green Gables before, but it was a very sweet and beautiful story and I liked the set,” said Kayla Yungkin who helped the construction of the set. “It was all around awesome.”
It was her first time constructing the set and she said that it was something cool to be a part of. She considered the final product of the set design to be beautiful.
“It was very aesthetically stunning,” said Yungkin.
Supplee, who played Anne Shirley, was a charming and lovable character that kept the audience laughing in every scene with her personality and “peculiar but lady-like speech” as Mrs. Barry (Samantha Dial) defined.
From dying her hair green, to knocking out a classmate with a slate or accidentally getting her “bosom friend,” Diana Barry (Christine Franzen), drunk on currant wine, Anne’s misadventures and quirky behavior graced the stage as we watched her grow and learn to stay true to herself and her ideas. Especially when it came to unforgiving classmate, Gilbert Blythe, who called her “Carrots.”
The rest of the cast were also noteworthy as they performed different movements such as becoming Anne’s train by making train noises, bringing on flowers and dancing them around as Mr. Cuthbert drove Anne to Green Gables from the train station through a flower field, as well as voicing the horse which was actually a wooden chest which Anne and Mr. Cuthbert sat on for travel.
“This show, especially with the blend of projections and costumes and everything, it was really cool to work on something that isn’t always done in this kind of way,” said Kasey Donnelly who played the nosy neighbor, Rachel Lynde. “You’re not going to see Anne of Green Gables done with movement pieces like actors becoming a train. So, it was cool to see how like the different worlds of theatre had come together to make something so cool and magical.”
Elizabeth Shaffer, a third-year graduate student in EMU’s MFA Applied Theatre for the Young program was in attendance with her spouse Seth Shaffer, an MFA graduate in Puppetry Arts from the University of Connecticut.
They both said that they liked the show and they thought it was very immersive. Seth Shaffer recounted his connection of the story of Anne of Green Gables with his past experience.
“I haven’t seen the storyline since I was a younger kid with the PBS version that they had 5 years ago and my mom loved that story so we would watch it all the time when I was a kid,” he said. “So, it was kind of neat to see it again.”
Displaying hope of family and having a home, especially right in time for the holiday season, Tanner ended the EMU theatre season with a show that she considered well suited to direct, as it contained hope and happiness.
“I think it is important to bring people joy and laughter although it isn't always valued,” Tanner said. “In our real lives, that's what most of us want: To love and be loved. To laugh. To overcome. So a character like Anne does just that and I am happier every night as I watch her struggle to make her way in the world.”