Marilla Cuthbert Janet Amos
Rachel Lynde Robin Craig
Matthew Cuthbert Jerry Franken
Diana Barry Catherine Gatotos
Josie Pye Carolyn Hay
Anne Shirley Jennie Raymond
Gilbert Blythe Jamie Robinson
Ruby Gillis Eliza-Jane Scott
Given that the musical version of “Anne of Green Gables” is the most frequently produced play in Canada, it’s not a surprise that a new version of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s popular novel should turn up as a straight play. What is a bit of surprise is the depth of writing and craft in Paul Ledoux’s adaptation.
Not that Ledoux isn’t up to the task – he has several hits under his belt – but he has never even seen the musical and only received the rights after promising that his dramatic rendering would be substantially different.
What Ledoux has created is a rich evocation of turn-of-the-century life on tiny Prince Edward Island, with Anne at its center. In his hands Marilla and Matthew, Anne’s adoptive parents, and nosy neighbor Rachel Lynde, come alive as powerful archetypes whose gentle story is deeply sentimental, but never saccharine in its delivery of a timely message about the importance of community.
A cast of eight carry the tale, and Ledoux has taken some liberties with the original in using Anne’s friends as a device to move the action forward; their almost continual presence onstage gives them more weight than in the novel, but also provides a visually appealing series of action scenes while moving the plot forward.
Set in a distant, kinder time, the play showcases a functional family, and in so doing speaks to both kids and adults without patronizing or condescending. Indeed, in Anne we have an unusual heroine for this day and age, one who despite her spunky disposition obeys her elders and never uses bad language or drugs. In short, Ledoux’s play is an antidote to the down-and-out vision of youth in popular shows like “Trainspotting” and “Rent.”
The exquisite Young Peoples Theatre production, directed by Patricia Vanstone , contains some of the finest legit performances in Toronto so far this year. Jerry Franken’s Matthew, with his shy smile, gosh-golly-gee tilt of the head and inarticulate adoration of Anne, is matched by Janet Amos’ starchy and well-meaning Marilla, who manages to melt without ever losing her dignity or outer crustiness. Robin Craig’s Rachel Lynde is a deliciously meddlesome gossip whose back arches at the slightest offense like peacock feathers about to spread.
Jennie Raymond is a rare find as Anne, her performance a superbly nuanced and detailed tribute to the original. Herself a native of P.E.I. with real red hair, Raymond sets new standards for any actor tackling the musical Anne.
“Anne of Green Gables” may be quintessentially small-town Canada, but this adaptation is also a good example of how, with vision and integrity, the specific can become universal.