If only the storytelling in “Treasure Island” had the clarity and grace of its heroine’s pipe dream. Directed by Tori Tolentino, with movement direction by Dallas Tolentino, the show boasts a smidgen of pleasant kinetic physicality: a rollicking celebration by rum-swigging sailors, for instance. But the dialogue — this is one of the talking productions from Synetic, which is oriented toward physical theater — is delivered with little polish, and the visuals are drab and sometimes unclear. Moreover, the jolting narrative, which the married Tolentinos co-adapted (with some liberties) from Robert Louis Stevenson, occasionally glosses over plot points in a way that can be confusing.
At a time of increased attention to gender issues, it does seem a fine idea to make the tale’s central character a girl. (It’s Jim Hawkins in the original.) That early broom-fight fantasy displays the energy and resourcefulness that will help Jane (Anne Flowers, channeling bland pluckiness) triumph over high-seas dangers and Jolly Roger skulduggery.
Her adventures begin when she inherits a pirate’s map and joins acquaintance Dr. Livesey (Da’Von T. Moody) and the oh-so-English Squire Trelawney (Karina Hilleard) on a quest to recover the buccaneer’s loot, cached on an island. The stakes rise after the expedition leaders hire, as ship’s cook, a certain Long John Silver (Chris Daileader), who may have more than culinary exploits on his résume.
Surrounded by sheets of off-white fabric, which are presumably intended to evoke sails but look like dingy infirmary curtains, a wooden deck-and-galley framework represents the expedition’s schooner. The structure sometimes pivots to suggest a stockade on the island, but the two settings are not always clearly distinguished, and it doesn’t help that the script fails to clearly note that the island has a stockade. Other fuzzily rendered details include a marauding band of pirates who mysteriously look like ghouls. (Phil Charlwood is scenic designer. The period costumes are by Jeannette Christensen.)
Daileader’s genially blustering Long John Silver is often droll, and Scott Whalen’s ditsy, tottering version of the long-marooned Ben Gunn is at least distinctive, but many of the other characterizations are garden variety. Even Jane’s spunkiness, as interpreted by Flowers from the adaptation’s cursorily signaled traits, registers as rather generic, while some of the lines come straight from Stevenson, and the cast’s mostly pedestrian speaking styles sap the dialogue of any flair.
Known for its frequently marvelous wordless adaptations of literary classics, Synetic seems to have insufficiently burnished the spoken-word dimension here. Even a “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” deserves to get resonant voicing.
Treasure Island, adapted by Tori and Dallas Tolentino from Robert Louis Stevenson. Directed by Tori Tolentino. Resident composer, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; lighting design, Paul Callahan; sound, Thomas Sowers; properties, Kelli L. Jones. With Billie Krishawn, Lee Liebeskind, Anna Lynch, Raven Lorraine, Irene Hamilton, Conor Donahue and Darius Johnson. 90 minutes. Tickets: $19-$65. Through Aug. 18 at 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. 866-811-4111 or synetictheater.org