Baylor Theatre’s ‘Treasure Island’ prepares for swashbuckling opening night

Baylor Theatre opens Tuesday with its production of "Treasure Island." Photo courtesy of Abigail Dillard

By Emma Weidmann | Staff Writer

Starring a cast of female pirates, Baylor Theatre’s production of “Treasure Island” opens Tuesday at the Mabee Theatre in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center. Baylor Theatre has been marking a triumphant return to the stage this semester as COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted.

“Treasure Island” is adapted from the novel by Robert Louis Stephenson, written in 1883. Originally centering around the adventures of a group of young boys, this adaptation casts the play in a new light. Baton Rouge, La., graduate student Abigail Dillard sits as director of the play and said casting all women to play the pirates is unique, but ultimately changes very little about the story itself.

“Treasure Island” is the story of Jim Hawkins, a boy who finds a treasure map and recruits a crew of pirates from Black Hill Cove to sail in search of the treasure, but encounters a mutiny, a shipwreck and several sword fights along the way. For more than a century, the story has inspired movies and stage adaptations, including Disney’s futuristic animated film “Treasure Planet.”

However, this stage adaptation by Bryony Lavery puts a spin on the story in a different way. According to Dillard, Lavery’s work tends to focus on women and other marginalized identities, especially those that were not represented at the time Stevenson wrote the original novel.

“The treasure is not as significant as the people that Jim is surrounding herself with along the way,” Dillard said. “Bryony is a really strong feminist and queer playwright and author, so it was really important for her when she was commissioned to write this play that it felt inclusive to all people.”

This production proves that adventure is for everyone. Every audience member will recognize something of themselves in Jim Hawkins.

“It’s just gender-inclusive,” Dillard said. “Something we found in our research was that there were historical female pirates, too. We think of pirates as dangerous men, but there were actually really dangerous women out there as well.”

Dillard has a unique style of directing in that she allows her actors more free rein than usual, giving them space to incorporate their own interpretation of their characters into the production. In doing so, she has created a special working relationship between herself and her actors that has fostered mutual respect.

“She knows what she wants, and I love it,” Long Beach, Calif., junior and performer Lauryn Bedford said. “It’s such a blessing to have my first main stage experience be with Abigail Dillard. There’s just something about the way she sees things and the way that she trusts us to make that happen for her that’s very flattering.”

Bedford said her character, Doctor Livesey, was also originally a man. According to Bedford, the doctor is someone who cares for their community and shows affection through action, something Bedford uses to relate to her character as she acts. Strong and silent, Doctor Livesey has an anchoring presence in the cast.

“She was the one who taught Jim how to read and educated him,” Bedford said. “She is not a pompous person. She could be anywhere, but she’s here in Black Hill Cove.”

“Treasure Island” will be performed starting Feb. 22 and will run through Feb. 27 at various times. Tickets can be bought through the theater arts box office.