- Presented by: Colorado Shakespeare Festival
- Venue: University Theatre
- University Theatre Building, 261 University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80302
Cap’n Jack Sparrow has nothing on Long John Silver, the roguish, irresistible hero-villain in the original pirate adventure, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Ken Ludwig’s high-flying 2007 adaptation follows young Jim Hawkins as he takes to the high seas in search of treasure and contends with a band of buccaneers including the brutal Billy Bones, sinister Blind Pew, and brash Anne Bonny. Through swordplay, treachery and musket smoke on a far-flung isle, Jim finds himself becoming a man — and you may find your yearning for adventure kindled.
Note to parents: This play is suitable for families. However, it does contain some images that may be frightening to younger children and occasional loud reports from simulated gunfire that may disturb some audience members.Read more
“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Maturity doesn’t come gradually or gently to Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, but more like a punch in the face. There is no easing into the hard grown-up decisions. He must protect his widowed mother, outwit a cutthroat gang of pirates, and leave the comforts of home to sail to a far away tropical island and thwart the diabolical machinations of his frenemy, Long John Silver. And all that before intermission!
In the process, his world of simple, black-and-white morality becomes much less clear-cut, and he is forced to grapple with some of adulthood’s gray areas. One such gray area, his relationship with Long John Silver, is at the heart of this tale. Is Long John his friend, or his enemy? Or both? The point being, perhaps, that friendships are complicated, messy, wonderful things. Jim and Silver’s growing mutual admiration is a thorny path, but it’s also life-altering for both of them.
Working on this production of Treasure Island has caused me to ponder the many friendships I’ve been blessed with over the years. I’ve enjoyed so many different types: mentors who have taught and guided me; teammates with whom I’ve celebrated victory and mourned defeat; acquaintances who have come and gone and provided moments of cheer and laughter; colleagues with whom I’ve worked, created, battled, and danced; a few bosom buddies who simply “get me”; a soul mate who is unceasingly by my side; and, of course, my own frenemies with whom I sometimes just have to agree to disagree. Each has contributed to the complex stew of my life – providing an ingredient here, a spice there – culminating in the recipe (whether for good or for bad) that has made me who I am today.
Jim Hawkins and I (and most of you, I presume) are never really without our lasting memories of our most important companions. As our young hero says about Long John Silver at the end of the play, “And once again I dream about him, this time standing on the prow of a ship, looking out towards the horizon, smiling at whatever the future might happen to bring,” it causes me to think about what another author once wrote:
“I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends.”
– William Shakespeare
May we all be so blessed in our memories.
— Carolyn Howarth, Director
The adventure of a lifetime begins for young Jim Hawkins when a grizzled old pirate comes to the door of the Admiral Benbow Inn. As other strange buccaneers trickle in, a bloody evening ensues and leaves the dreaded Captain Flint’s infamous treasure map in Jim’s hands. Together, Jim, the English Doctor Livesy, and Squire Trelawney decide to go to sea in search of the treasure. Before setting sail, Jim befriends Long John Silver, an old, one-legged sea cook who knew Jim’s father and who hires the crew for the Englishmen’s ship, the Hispaniola. Once at sea, Jim discovers that his friend Long John Silver has in fact outfitted the boat with murderous pirates who plan to mutiny and take the treasure for themselves. Jim and his friends manage a desperate escape with the treasure map to Skeleton Island, with the bloodthirsty pirates on their trail.
Jim encounters a wild and weathered old pirate, Ben Gunn, who was marooned on the island three years earlier by the brutal Captain Flint. Gunn makes a deal with Jim to share the treasure in exchange for safe passage home, and tells Jim of the small boat he has built. The pirates besiege the stockade of the Englishmen, and Jim narrowly escapes the gunfire to find Gunn’s makeshift boat. Jim reaches the Hispaniola, directs it to a hidden shore, and goes in search of his friends. However, when Jim approaches the Englishmen’s camp in the dark, instead of finding his comrades, he stumbles into a nest of pirates. Jim rages at Captain Silver for his betrayal, and accuses him of killing his father. Silver reveals that he saved his father’s life and offers a partnership with Jim in order to overcome the devious pirate crew. Jim agrees to trust Silver and gives him the coveted treasure map. Jim pretends to be Silver’s hostage and the pirates align under Silver to seek their fortune. The whole gang proceeds on a treasure hunt all over the island, though their nerves are rattled when they find skeletons as trail markers and hear eerie sea chanteys echoing through the breeze. Suddenly, Gunn and the Englishmen burst forth to battle the pirates and Jim’s throat is nearly cut. Jim, Gunn, and the Englishmen gain the upper hand — and the treasure. They set sail for England with a boat full of gold and jewels, as well as Silver, in chains, who is to be tried as a pirate. Jim makes his last peace with Silver and sets him free. Satisfied by his most daring and courageous journey, young Jim Hawkins returns home at last.
Treasure Island is a significant story in our culture not only for its gripping tale of boyhood adventure and daring, but also because it evokes the popular myths and legends that shape our perceptions of pirates.
As we dive into the fantastical world of Treasure Island, an investigation of what actual pirates were like demonstrates where the lines of fact and fiction have become so blurred. The historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot tells us that “it is not just historians who write history, but movies, novels, television and the popular press all greatly influence what the public knows about history.” And so it is with pirates.
During the so-called Golden Age of Piracy (1680–1730), several factors contributed to the rise and then decline of widespread piracy. But the texts of the day tended to either contradict or romanticize the reality. One of the most famous and relied-upon of these “historical” texts from this period is John Esquemeling’s The Buccaneers of America, published in Dutch as a first-hand account of pirating in 1678, and published in English in 1684. A 1724 work, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, published under the pseudonym Captain Charles Johnson, recounts tales of pirate captains including William Kidd, Blackbeard, and Woodes Rogers, among others. These accounts have defined the era and shaped perceptions for historians and creative works. But in truth, these texts are questionable in their accuracy and are most likely exaggerated portrayals of pirates.
For example, it is true that this time period was the height of the infamous captains mentioned above. But they were not the overbearing and tyrannical dictators depicted in the “historical” accounts. Esquemeling’s works explored the heroism of famous ship captains, especially Captain Henry Morgan, who became a household name and infamous anti-hero. Yet, as historian Paul Gilbert points out, some of these glorified pirate captains eventually were ousted by their own crews, and probably lacked the ominous and fearsome leadership we imagine.
During the Golden Age of Piracy, buccaneers were in fact distinct in their egalitarian and democratic views, and largely operated under a system of equality in which religious, racial, and age differences were irrelevant. Important decisions on the ship were made through voting, and while the captain would give an opinion in these matters, the majority vote was still the ruling voice.
This is just one example of the evolution of a myth in contrast to reliable accounts of pirates in their Golden Age. Cultural icons like the 1967 Disneyland attraction, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” as well as the wildly popular eponymous films featuring Johnny Depp as the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow, have also shaped our collective imagination of the pirate. Fact or no, we delight to watch Depp evoke all of our pirate preconceptions as an intoxicated rascal out for treasure and adventure on the high seas. Other prominent pirate literature includes J.M Barrie’s 1902 Peter Pan, and of course, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 Treasure Island.
Indeed, the pirates of the Golden Age certainly inspired Stevenson, and while threads of fact can be found in his tale, it is also a foundational piece of fiction that has shaped society’s fantasy of bloodthirsty pirates. Stevenson’s specific inventions including the use of treasure maps and “X marks the spot,” the dreaded Black Spot, and parrots echoing “pieces of eight” from pirate shoulders. Whether these elements are fact or fiction, it has become all but impossible for us to visualize a pirate any other way.
— Bianca Gordon, Dramaturg
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