The critic had never been to Book-It Repertory Theatre before, so he was unprepared for what was to come. He had come to see a theatrical adaptation of local author Jim Lynch's debut novel, The Highest Tide, about a 13-year-old boy who discovers a dead giant squid on a beach near Olympia.
The Highest Tide is a novel more beloved by local booksellers for being set locally than for being well-written—Miles O'Malley, the main character, is the kind of boy who's so precocious that he has to be the invention of a grown man.
The jarring thing about the adaptation is Book-It's house style, in which characters speak their dialogue as though they're reading it in a book: Much of the dialogue ends with characters saying, "she said" or "he said," as in "I am saying this sentence, he said." This is presumably a way to keep the adaptation as close as possible to the text.
"But it's really just a stupid device," the critic said to himself, when one of the main characters is introduced by shouting his own name, like an imbecile."And it's distracting from the text it's supposed to be emphasizing. If you have people dressed as fictional characters acting out roles onstage, you might as well pretend that they're the authors of the words they're speaking. Otherwise, they're just weirdos talking about themselves in the third person."
"See?" he added. "Isn't this fucking annoying?" He agreed with himself.
But the acting saves the production from itself: Kellan Larson, who plays the boy, speaks with a charming lisp and brings real enthusiasm to wonky marine biology terms and lessons about the startling length of mollusk penises. Larson's enthusiasm also disarms the book's main problem: It's harder to believe that a 13-year-old boy wouldn't say the words he's saying when an actual teenage boy is saying the words.
Other elements, like the cult that believes Miles is a minor messiah, are handled well—adorably, believably, all the cult members are wearing Crocs—and director Jane Jones, who also adapted the novel, makes intelligent use of a large ensemble cast. But a few stretches, like an onstage pantomime of a drowning, drag on too long, leaving the audience painfully aware that the actor has been abandoned on the front of the stage by clumsy staging and poor direction, left to do nothing but a slow-motion twist for five minutes while sucking air through a PVC pipe.
Through the sheer power of Larson's likability, the play works better than the book.
"But it still goes on too long," the critic said, shifting in his seat.
"Groan," the seat said.