“Anne of Green Gables” is a perfect intro to a beloved heroine

When it comes to my favorite characters in literature, Elizabeth Bennett and Jo March have always topped the list. But there is one character who truly resonates with me, from her obsession with romantic ideals to her penchant for putting her foot in her mouth. I’d even call her a kindred spirit.

If you go

  • Noon and 3 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. July 11-Aug. 2.
  • Provision Theater, 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago
  • (312) 455-0066; provisiontheater.org
  • Looking for a post-show treat? Flirty Cupcakes (1030 W. Taylor St.) sells carrot cake cupcakes, perfect for celebrating “Carrots,” a.k.a. Anne.

Anne Shirley, the outspoken, smart-as-a-whip heroine of L.M. Montgomery’s series books, remains just as beloved to spirited young girls in 2015 as she did back in 1908. With her fiery red hair and equally dynamic personality, Anne is a character you just can’t help falling in love with – as demonstrated by Provision Theater’s current production of “Anne of Green Gables.”

The play delves into Anne’s origin story – an orphan shipped off to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, siblings who were planning to adopt a boy to help around their farm on Prince Edward Island. Audiences get to know Anne through her crazy exploits, whether telling off a nosy neighbor, accidentally getting her best friend drunk, or smashing her slate on Gilbert Blythe’s head.

I will admit, that having seen the [seven-hour] Canadian mini-series upwards of 25 times, there were “favorite” scenes I missed, from Anne’s attempt to dye her hated red hair black to her obsession with puffed sleeves. But the one-hour play makes for a great primer into the world of Anne Shirley, rather than the more encyclopedic book series or DVD version.

The actors do a lovely job of bringing beloved characters to life and finding unique depictions in some quite familiar scenes. Of course, being thoroughly indoctrinated in the movie version, I did struggle with some characterizations, such as bashful Matthew’s transformation into a more forceful, even jovial, man. And the kids in the audience definitely seemed to relate to Anne’s more overtly melodramatic nature, as evidenced by the gales of laughter at many of her lines.

The small size of Provision Theater means every member of the audience feels in on the action, especially as actors enter and exit via the main doors. The set, Green Gables’ kitchen and parlor, is simple, transforming into a schoolroom when necessary, and with just a trunk (and some sound cues) used to indicate riding in a carriage. While I missed the glorious scenery of Prince Edward Island, it certainly allowed for much more “scope for the imagination,” which is exactly how Anne would want it.

On our way out, I noticed two little girls grasping their red-headed Anne dolls, and it made me smile. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that such a headstrong, dramatic, talkative, flawed, and ultimately good heroine is making her way into the hearts of the next generation. Because if there’s one thing that Anne has taught us, it’s that kindred spirits come in all shapes and sizes.

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