The hero of Seattle Children's Theatre's Johnny Tremain is a boy who comes of age thanks to the challenges of war. Adapted from Esther Forbes' Newberry Award-winning book set during the American Revolution (and first published during World War II), the play is polished and considerate, but, given recent events, a bit uneasily so. Talking to children during postshow discussions, the cast can't speak directly about our current woes, yet can't remain unmoved.
"We can't take any position," Alban Dennis, who plays the impassioned lead, says. "If [the children] go home and ask their parents about something they've seen, that's great."
Hans Altweis isn't sure that's enough. A favorite with the kids, he's rambunctious and appealing as Tremain's devoted friend, Rab, a guy who wants nothing more than a musket and a purpose. The material's inherent patriotism has him wondering if Johnny can leave its impressionable audience with concepts more crucial than "he learned how to be a man."
"They're saying what they think we want to hear," he says, shaking his head in frustration. "There's nothing new happening in those talk-backs."
"None of them ever mention being a man is going out and shooting people," castmate M.L. Berry, the show's Paul Revere, counters.
Altweis nods hopefully and allows, "I think they get the grief."
Director Rita Giomi and adapter John Olive have made sure that grief is there. However much the original text is clearly meant to embolden boys in wartime, the production does touch upon the inescapable sadness that accompanies such tumult, including a final moment amongst the bodies of men lost in battle. The sense of sorrow has mushroomed for the actors ever since that fateful Tuesday.
"It resonates every time [the play's physician] Dr. Warren says, 'We're going to lose a lot of good young men,'" Sharva Maynard, who plays Johnny's caretaker, Mrs. Lapham, admits. "I have the same feeling every time."
The actors seem genuinely weighed down by the internal struggles that continue to transform all of us; they care enough about their craft and its place in this newly horrible, sadly old world to labor over what is being communicated and how much still needs to be heard.
"I had a little girl ask me if it was hard to be up there with the dead people," Maynard recalls. "It was such a loaded question. I said, 'Yeah, it was kind of hard.' I didn't know what else to say to her."