by Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapted by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Anita Maynard-Losh
Long John Silver wakes up in the morning, straps on his wooden leg, feeds his parrot, Captain Flint, and… what?
Does he read a little Shakespeare? Kill a pirate who happens to be threatening his favorite son-figure, Jim Hawkins? Does he chuckle, while running his fingers over ruby rings and royal heirlooms, over the times he’s hoodwinked people who thought they were his friends? Or does he walk downstairs and eat breakfast with his wife and children?
Billed as “the greatest anti-hero of all time,” and certainly the most influential character on popular perception of pirates, Long John Silver defies easy description. For actor Bostin Christopher, that’s part of the fun.
“The duality of the character is really there in the play,” he said.
If you haven’t seen or read Treasure Island, the basic premise is this: Jim Hawkins, a young man who has recently lost his father, comes across a pirate’s treasure map-marked, of course, with an “X.” The crew of the recently deposed Captain Flint really, really wants that treasure. Jim and some friends get a ship. The pirates get hired as crew. And the audience starts wondering where Long John Silver’s loyalties really lie.
Treasure Island is a book originally written by Robert Louis Stevenson; Ken Ludwig adapted it for the stage in a play that will be at Perseverance Theatre through Dec. 8. Some aspects of Long John Silver’s character are different in the play and the book. Characters or their interactions have been slightly changed to highlight, and help develop, certain relationships – and to make acts that might betray those relationships more dramatic, Christopher said.
“(Long John Silver) is a great manipulator to get what he wants, but he also has this amazing feeling for this boy,” he said. “There are a lot of scenes where you can’t tell if Long John is being truthful and sincere…. Sometimes somebody will tell themselves something long enough that they start to believe it.”
To get into character, Christopher did research, read Treasure Island, and did “text work” – finding “the structure and the rhythms of what’s being said, and then figuring out what the story is.” He also imagined backstory.
Christopher was born in Anchorage, got a Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Art with an emphasis on acting from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and spent time living and acting in New York, Los Angeles and a few other places. Some memorable moments off the stage and in front of the camera: he was in “Unbreakable,” a movie in which he shared a scene with Samuel L. Jackson. He also acted in Law and Order, played the title character in “Otis,” and went to some of Thailand’s ancient ruins to film “Scorpion King 3.” It’s shoot he remembers fondly, and a film he remembers wryly.
This is his third season working at Perseverance, where, in addition to acting, he’s marketing director and artistic associate.
“I always used to say ‘I’m a big city boy,’ but there’s something about creating professional theater in Juneau. In Alaska, but in Juneau, specifically,” he said. “You get to live in that beauty and at the same time do the work that you love to do.”
Christopher said he tends to think of his character as one element of a painting, imagining his part in a larger whole.
“The other thing you do as an actor is find inspiration from your own life in terms of characters that you know, and people you know,” he said. “My grandfather – he could embellish a story like nobody else.”
His grandfather would start to embellish a story, and his grandmother would correct him, he said.
“Long John doesn’t have that person to correct him, so the stories become lavish and large…. He’s good at building his own legend.”
Where does Silver get his sense of adventure?
“I would say you can never have enough money – and sitting around is kind of boring,” Christopher said. “It’s sort of like… people who can’t work a nine to five.”
For Silver, however, it’s not really about the money, Christopher added. “It’s really about the thrill of getting the money.”
“He has some humanity, but also no regard for humanity… the desire for adventure, to feel alive, is a main motivation. He’s not the kind to sit around and watch TV. He would probably be an extreme outdoorsman. He’d figure out a way, even with one leg,” Christopher said.