What if you had the option of living forever—would you choose to do so?
That is one of the questions posed by the play “Tuck Everlasting” that will be performed at the Cape Cod Theatre Company, Home of the Harwich Junior Theatre, on weekends from March 29 to April 20.
“I love the story of ‘Tuck Everlasting,’” says the play’s producer and director Nina Schuessler, who has also served for 23 years as the company’s producing artistic director. “In a very gentle way, it talks about the cycle of life and whether immortality is such a great thing when it comes to the natural world.”
The play was adapted by Mark J. Frattaroli from a 1975 novel of the same title by Natalie Babbitt. The book won a Christopher Award in 1976 as the year’s best book for young people; in 2005 Anita Silvey, one of the nation’s premiere experts on children’s literature, named it one of the 100 best books ever for children. The book has been made into a movie twice— first in 1981 and then in 2002 in a version by Disney starring William Hurt, Sissy Spacek and Ben Kingsley in the adult roles. In 2016 it was produced as a musical on Broadway and has been a favorite in children’s theaters around the country. The version at the Cape Cod Theatre Company is not a musical, although it features an “amazing” underscore by sound designer and music composer J Hagenbuckle.
The story begins in the first week of August, 1880, when 10-year-old Winnie Foster (played by Olivia Thompson), an only child, realizes she is eager to experience life by breaking away from her family in rural Treegap. She’s not sure what she wants to do, but as the book puts it, she’d like to do “something interesting—something that’s all mine. Something that would make some kind of difference in the world.”
Off on her solo adventure, Winnie soon meets a 17-year-old boy, Jesse Tuck (played by Quinn Schuyler), drinking water from a spring in the woods on her family’s property. (Quinn’s brother Shaw will serve as understudy when Quinn is traveling in China for a week.) Winnie’s meeting with Jesse is a life-changing one that presents her with enormous decisions. Will she choose romance, a new family, eternal life? These are some of the conflicts of the play.
Winnie’s new friends in the Tuck family are unusual in that they have not aged in 87 years—ever since they first drank from that mysterious spring bubbling up around the roots of the giant ash tree. Jesse, for example, is now chronologically 104 years old.
Adding a sense of menace is a threatening “Stranger in a Yellow Suit” played by David Wallace. It turns out that the stranger has been tracking Jesse and his 22-year-old brother Miles (played by Seamus Sartin) as they made their way back to Treegap. The stranger’s intentions are not good.
At the center of the set by scenic and lighting designer James P. Byrne is a tree large enough for the actors to go in and out of. Also on the set are Winnie’s house and wood, the Tuck family house and pond, a jail cell and various sites around the village of Treegap. The play concludes in 1950, 70 years after it begins, as we learn what path Winnie and the others ultimately follow.
Three forest voices (played by Kate Paxton, Lily Pierce and Hayley Labdon) serve as a kind of Greek chorus producing “beautiful verses sprinkled throughout as voices.” The voices are “forest fairies, part of the natural world.” Choreographer Joanna Callum Powers is coaching the three girls, and “it is enchanting to watch them,” Schuessler says.
In addition to Wallace, adult roles are played by Judith Partelow as Mae Tuck, Edward Donovan as Angus Tuck, Carryl Lynn as Granny Foster and Lou Maloof as the constable.
Schuessler says she has worked with these actors over many years and in fact met Partelow 43 years ago. “It’s wonderful to have that deep connection when they practically read my mind,” she adds.
Costumes are by Robin McLaughlin. Mark Kohler is the technical director and stage directors are Susie Davis-Brof and David Baker.
The play is “enchanting, lyrical,” and offers “great lessons about living life on life’s terms,” Schuessler says. And like the best of children’s literature, “people of all ages will really love this production,” she says. “There are a lot of layers. There is a lot to think and talk about.”
The multi-generational play is recommended for ages nine and older.
The Cape Cod Theatre Company is at 105 Division St., West Harwich. “Tuck Everlasting” will be performed on the theater’s main stage from March 29 to April 20 on Fridays at 7 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Ticket prices run from $15 to $25. Tickets may be ordered by calling the box office at 508-432-2002, extension 2, or online at capecodtheatrecompany.org.