The classic children’s tale of Anne of Green Gables has stolen the hearts of readers around the globe ever since its publication in the early 1900s.
The book later made its mark through film, radio and stage variations.
Starting this weekend, RiverStage Community Theatre will be one of the first theatre groups in the country to perform a new adaptation of the story that will bring to life again the favorite characters and scenes that have found a home in the memorable childhood imaginations of many.
The adaptation by Mary Collins Barile, based on the original story by L.M. Montgomery, “is told from the point of view of an older Anne reminiscing about her life,” said Virginia Zimmeran, Bucknell University English professor and children’s book author, who is directing the RiverStage play. “The familiar episodes of Anne’s story are framed by memory and reflection.
“I hope the audience members who love the book will feel their memories are a part of the play, too,” she said.
That desire is evidenced especially in the set, which includes a centerpiece displaying open pages of the book.
Jove Graham, RiverStage president, who will also be performing as Matthew Cuthbert in the production, said the play fits right in with what they love to do.
“We love staging great stories that are going to entertain, but also give people something new they haven’t seen before,” he said, adding, “We fell in love with this particular script and were ecstatic when (Zimmerman), an English professor and local celebrity author herself, agreed to direct.”
Zimmerman said the production involves 17 actors and a six-person design crew – which includes her. One of the unique things in the play is that rather than utilizing a backstage crew, she said, the actors are actually moving and interacting with set pieces as part of the performance.
She has enjoyed watching the cast assemble, each bringing something unique to the performance, Zimmerman said, and also watching them grow over the weeks of rehearsal and preparation.
Ramsey Uhter, who plays Anne, quite possibly had the biggest challenge of all, Zimmerman said, because “she has to capture Anne’s bright spirit.”
“I think she’s doing an amazing job bringing the part to life.”
Uhter, of Williamsport, agrees that Anne has been a tricky character to capture.
“While her emotions and motives are very translucent,” she said, “they are all over the place, and I had to tie them all down into one character.
“She also talks,” she added, “a lot. She talks more in an hour than I probably would in a week.”
But the character is also one that is easy for many to find themselves in, as well as to learn from.
“I think we can all identify with Anne as she grows up,” said Melissa Fast, who is playing Marilla Cuthbert in the production, “because every one of us has experienced the struggles of not fitting in and trying to find our own way in this big, wide world. We just need to take the time to find the beauty, just as Anne did.
“Maybe it’s not so bad to be red-haired and freckled!” she added.
For Charlene Rineer, of Lewisburg, who is playing Mrs. Barry in the production, the main character is an inspiration for her, as well, as is the story as a whole.
“I love the spunkiness and independence that Anne displays,” she said, adding, “I love the whole theme of home and family, which is not always with those who are blood-related. I also like the bonds of friendship between many of the characters.
“I think the audiences will especially enjoying seeing Anne’s growth and how Matthew, Marilla and Anne’s relationship strengthens,” she said.
Fast has also found a connection with her character, Marilla, who becomes a mother figure to the orphan Anne. Fast said her oldest child is autistic and facing some challenges, and this situation unexpectedly helped her to prepare for this role.
Sarah Bell, who has served with RiveStage since 2012, said she has found her role as Mrs. Rachel Lynde a challenging one. The character is regularly giving advice and guidance to others on how to behave.
“I don’t tend to be opinionated in my life,” Bell said, “so I have been working on getting very confident and enjoying telling people what to do. It is fun to play such a strong and multifaceted character.”
As the performers work hard to prepare for the roles that have become so well-known over the years, they are also appreciating the beauty of this new adaptation.
“I love the story,” Uhter said. “I grew up reading it. I love this adaptation because it really captures the storybook feeling. The set is simple, but the story is larger than life.”
Whether longtime fans of the book or new to the story, Zimmerman said, “Whatever brings folks in the door, they’ll enjoy a heartwarming play that celebrates the spirit of imagination, and finding a home.”