You probably know the plot of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck, a favorite Mark Twain character, befriends runaway slave Jim and helps him escape down the Mississippi River to freedom. It's an old story, yes, but a great one.
If you think the book is heartwarming, wait until you see it unfold in the super-intimate setting of the Red Barn Theater.
The play's director, Vince Flynn, says the actors in Big River are stellar, especially the leads (Travis Walton, who'll play Huck, and Burney Starks, who'll play Jim). And that's lucky, considering none of Red Barn's actors get paid—they all act because they love it ... and they happen to have a knack for it.
"Travis and Burney are not only good actors," Flynn says. "They're also good singers, and they really capture the relationship between the two guys, and the effect it has on Huck—I think that's the most important thing."
Red Barn's acting team for Big River is so confident in its ability, in fact, that it's not even using stage scenery—not much, at least. Most of the play will take place in front of a simple Mississippi River backdrop, with the two main characters appearing to float on a gently rocking raft. The lack of scenery is necessary, because the theater is pretty small, so there's not a lot of room for a fancy setup. No matter, says Flynn—less scenery means less distraction from the story and the great acting.
The convincing portrayal of their characters' bond isn't all that surprising, considering that Red Barn's actors share a strong camaraderie in real life.
"It's a great little group down there," says Red Barn actress Edith Waugh, who'll play "the strange woman" in Big River. "We all get along so well, and we have a great time, and that's what makes a play fun to do. Some plays, we really hate to see end, because we've had so much fun doing them—it's like, man, I wish they could go on forever. But then the play ends, and we start another one!"
According to Flynn, the fun spreads to the audience, too. The theater only seats 50 to 60 people—in folding chairs, no less—so you're really right in front of the action, no matter where you sit. And, says Flynn, "There's a strong feeling between the people and the audience, and the audiences keep coming back for more. It has a community feeling instead of a formal, go-to-the-theater type of feeling." We're told it's like being in someone's living room (in a good way).
Flynn's favorite scene in the play depicts the moral climax of the novel, when Huck tears up the letter he wrote disclosing Jim's location, because he's realized he loves his friend so much that he can't give him up. Huck truly believes he'll go to hell for disobeying the law, but he does it anyway, because he'd rather follow his gut and go to hell than go to a heaven full of so-called "sivilized" folks who could perpetuate the hypocrisy and cruelty of slavery.
"The essence of the play," Flynn explains, "is that Huck learns to do the right thing, even though he's been taught all along it's the wrong thing. His heart tells him what to do, and his feeling is right. In fact, I would call this play a different kind of love story—Huck has learned to love this man, Jim, even though he's not supposed to have any feeling toward him at all."
Another thing Flynn likes is the play's music, which was written by the late Roger Miller. It will be played live by a band near the stage, with a piano, a banjo, a guitar and a harmonica.
Says Waugh, who's been acting with Red Barn for three years: "It's a very good cast. The music is good, and we put on as quality of a performance as anybody in town, but we aren't as expensive as other theaters. If you get the right cast assembled with the right talent, you can put on a good quality play."