I was unfamiliar with local author Jim Lynch and his novel The Highest Tide. I read the information in the Harlequin brochure announcing their new season and was doubly interested in seeing the play from its description and the link to Jane Jones and Book-It Theatre. My wife Peg used to review plays at Seattle Rep, ACT, the Fifth Avenue, and Book-It. Since Peg is an avid reader, Book-It was her darling. Peg interviewed Myra Pratt of Book-It, but not Jane. The Art of Racing in the Rain, Huck Finn, and Prairie Nocturne were among our favorites. Jane Jones and Myra Pratt cornered the market on delightful and meaningful books that could be converted to theatrical productions. Right then I knew that The Highest Tide must fall into the meaningful basket.
We were unable to arrange a date for reviewing The Highest Tide, so we moved on until my friend Dennis Flannigan stopped over for lunch and told us about the author Jim Lynch and a bit about The Highest Tide. He finished with the announcement that his daughter Ann would be performing in it. We had seen Ann in The Last Schwartz several years ago at Harlequin and enjoyed her performance. We told Denny we would join him and his family in Olympia for The Highest Tide.
Saturday morning before leaving Tacoma we purchased a copy of The Highest Tide and Peg read part of it out loud as we drove to Olympia. We both fell in love with the story.
Miles O’Malley, 13-year-old insomniac, naturalist, worshiper of Rachel Carson, and dweller on the mud flats of Skookumchuck Bay, at the South end of Puget Sound near Olympia, Washington, is the irresistible center of The Highest Tide. He says, “I learned early on that if you tell people what you see at low tide they’ll think you’re exaggerating or lying when you’re actually just explaining strange and wonderful things as clearly as you can” and “People usually take decades to sort out their view of the universe, if they bother to sort at all. I did my sorting during one freakish summer in which I was ambushed by science, fame and suggestions of the divine.”
And what a summer he has! Miles, who is licensed to collect marine specimens for money, slips into his kayak late one night when he can’t sleep and begins his exploratory rounds. What he sees is not the usual collectibles. He hears a deep exhale, a sound of release, and comes eye to eye with a giant squid. But, there are no giant squid in Puget Sound or anywhere around it–and when they are seen by humans, they are always dead. His discovery is confirmed by Professor Kramer, a local biologist and Miles’s friend. Television cameras arrive, everyone wants to interview this small-for-his-age but very smart boy and the events of the summer begin to unfold. – amazon.com/Highest-Tide-Novel-Jim-Lynch-ebook/dp/B0045I6TPI
A curved backdrop runs from one end of the stage to the other. The image projected onto the backdrop is a local bay at low tide. It appears to be digital slide, but just before curtain time (there is no curtain) we realize that the image is not a slide but a video, which speeds up showing the waves coming in until we see high tide. The floor of the stage is at times a beach of pebbles and sea life and at times living room floor. None of the press photos do the stage design justice. It’s difficult to shoot projected light.
The part of Miles is played alternately by two thirteen year-old boys (Jack Brotherton and Leo Conklin) from Washington Middle School in Olympia. Miles (played here by Brotherton) has an outgoing personality and is friends with people his age as well as those older like neighbor Florence (played by May Lou Mills). Like many teenagers Brotherton speaks too quickly at times, but is so endearing and likable we forgave him.
Miles’ parents are played by Gerald B. Browning (holding a can of Olympia Beer) and Ann Flannigan seen here with Miles played by Leo Conkin. Browning has acting credits with Harlequin, Seattle credits and national credits for acting as well as directing, scenic design, and writing. Ann has been a long standing actor at Harlequin.
Most of the actors in this production handle their part, as well as join the ensemble as various local characters. In this scene we see Miles (played by Jack Brotherton) being interviewed by KING-TV. Laura Hanson, who has played in another Jim Lynch adaptation at Book-It Theatre, does a great TV reporter and an even better over-the-top performer in The Highest Tide as a J. Z. Knight-like charismatic character.
It was fun to see crowds of people being amazed by Miles’ kind words and awed by his public standing as an expert and celebrity. (Left to right: Kameron Peapealalo, Julian Owen, Jack Brotherton and Laura Hanson).
The play was fun to watch, the back-drop was subtle magic, and the storyline almost had a Woody Allen feel to it. It was great seeing a production with the location just a short walk to the beach from downtown Olympia and the Harlequin.
The Highest Tide plays through March 21st. Get your tickets soon – app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=97261