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Hope springs eternal with ‘Anne of Green Gables’

By: Eileen Wilson, Telegraph Correspondent
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Everyone can use a little hope these days, and Sutter Street Theatre’s Anne of Green Gables is nothing, if not a hope-filled story; a story that’s perfect for today’s troubling times. Celebrating its 100-year anniversary, “Anne of Green Gables” is an enduring classic — an audience favorite that has inspired dozens of film and stage adaptations over the years. Did L.M. Montgomery know her novel would continue to enchant readers for over a century? It’s hard to know. But one thing is understood. The Canadian author, only in her mid 20s at the time Anne was published, created a novel that was not only successful in her time, but one that resulted in an entire series devoted to the fictional orphan, Anne, and her life on Prince Edward Island. It’s a show that director, Allen Schmeltz, has always wanted to do. “It’s such a classic story — a lot of young people are drawn to the story — a lot of older people, too. Especially the adults who grew up reading Montgomery’s stories,” Schmeltz said. And selecting the perfect adaptation was easy. “I chose the adaptation by Joseph Robinette. He’s an excellent playwright who keeps very true to the story,” Schmeltz said. “This is a challenging piece; a full-length play. When I read the adaptation, I said, ‘This is the one’.” Robinette also adapted the ever-popular “Charlotte’s Web,” a play that Schmeltz directed, amid much acclaim. And when excellent writing meets acting of the same caliber, a standout performance is sure to follow. “Our Anne, played by Samantha Watkins, is 17, but she looks 12. She’s fantastic — she’s utterly incredible in the part,” Schmeltz said. “She has done several shows with us, and she is so professional and mature — she is with us from Natomas Performing Arts School.” Of course, Anne is one of literature’s most rooted-for, sympathetic characters. “The story picks up when Anne is adopted by an adult brother-and-sister duo who had requested a boy to help with their farm, but they got stuck with a girl, instead,” Schmeltz said. “It’s a story about people caring, about family, and about love.” Schmeltz described the heartwarming story as set at the turn of the century. “Women are trying to get the vote. The social aspects of the time — it’s just a charming tale,” he said. “It’s about love and sacrifice.” Connie Mockenhaupt, Sutter Street’s artistic director, agrees that the story is one of love and hope. “It’s such a wonderful show. If you’ve ever had a chance to read the books, you’ll know it’s such a beautiful story. We have a lot of folks who are coming to the show with kids, but several who come without children, as well. Both kids and adults just love it,” Mockenhaupt said. With an intricate set, interesting costumes, and extremely fast pacing, the story, which opened in mid-February, has been a big hit, and limited tickets remain. “We’ve had a tremendous reception from the audience,” Schmeltz said. “A member of the audience recently told me, ‘This is the best show you have ever directed.’ We’ve had so many compliments from the audience. They think it’s a great show.” * * * “Anne of Green Gables” When: 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, thru March 11 Where: Sutter Street Theatre, 717 Sutter St., Folsom Tickets: $17 general, $15 SARTA and seniors, $13 children 12 and under Info: (916) 353-1001, sutterstreettheatre.com