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Theater Review: Great Production In Sherman About The Other Red-Headed Orphan

SHERMAN — It’s probably been sixty years or so since I read the L.M. Montgomery books about that other lovable red-headed orphan named Anne. Our sons were never interested, and our granddaughters had other faves, but sitting through the current production at Sherman Playhouse last week, the memories flooded back, and I realized what a fine, moving, old-fashioned story it is.

Set in Canada’s Prince Edward Island in the early 1900s, Anne of Green Gables tells of how Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a shy, elderly bachelor and his crusty old maid sister, apply to the orphanage for a boy to help with the farm chores, only to discover they have been sent a girl instead, a fanciful, talkative, impulsive girl who says what she thinks.

Joseph Robinette’s dramatization takes the events of original trilogy and condenses them into one play, in which Anne grows from an awkward kid who shocks and perplexes her elders, to a brave, staunch friend, as well as a top student who ultimately wins the respect of her classmates, and the heart of the smartest, most promising boy in town.

Her relationship with Gilbert Blythe is developed through episodes, from the beginning when he teases her for having red hair, to their rivalry for academic prizes, to their tentative (but inevitable) courtship. The real love story in the production, however, is between Anne and the Cuthberts — especially Matthew — as the lonely and isolated duo, who never expected to have a family, discover just how deeply Anne has penetrated their reserve, and lodged in their hearts

At least this is how it seems in the Sherman production, because of the flawless acting by Emma Nissenbaum as Anne, and Jeff Rossman as Matthew. The chemistry between them is both palpable and touching, especially as it is tinged with foreshadowed sadness to come. They are supported by other strong performances as well, in particular Stacy-Lee Frome as Marilla, and Lynn Nissenbaum as her gloomy neighbor, Rachel Lynde.

Michael Wright plays a number of roles for comic effect, including a slightly demented minister, a tyrannical schoolmaster, and the smarmy president of the high class academy high school that the Cuthberts spring for in order to give Anne a start in life.

Sam Everett is very convincing as the heroic Gilbert, while Erin Shaughnessy does well as Anne’s best friend, Diana Barry. In addition there is a large cast, amply directed by Robin Frome, that includes a host of local kids and some officiously respectable ladies of the town, Sunday school teachers and so forth, plus long time performer Judy Sullivan as the crochety Aunt Josephine who comes through in a pinch.

This is a great show to see with kids, because it is as much fun to watch them be totally absorbed as it is to follow the performers on the stage. It runs a bit long, because, as I said, it incorporates an entire trilogy, but it is done well, and everyone seemed to be having a smashing good time.

(Performances continue at The Sherman Playhouse weekends until July 27. Curtain is Friday and Saturday evenings at 8, and there is a 2 pm matinee scheduled for Sunday, July 7.

Tickets are $20 adults, and $10 for ages 12 and under. The Playhouse is at 5 Route 39 North. Call 860-354-3622 or visit TheShermanPlayhouse.org for reservations and additional information.)

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