by Terrance Mc Arthur
A young woman is left behind on an island off the California coast and survives by her wits and skills for 18 years. It really happened, and Scott O’Dell turned the story into a Newbery-winning children’s novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins. SHINE! Youth Theatre is staging Katy Realista’s adaptation of the book at the People’s Church, and it’s a celebration of a lost culture.
Karana (Katie Bordona) is a 12-year-old when Russian traders and their Aleut otter trappers nearly wipe out the village. The survivors are to be transported to the mainland, but Romo (Brennan Tozlian), Karana’s little brother, has run off to get his belongings. She jumps overboard to get him, but oncoming storms leave them stranded. They battle village dogs that have reverted to a wild state, with disastrous results. Later, Karana wounds the pack leader and tames him.
One of her greatest challenges is overcoming the tribal taboos that prevent women from learning the skills (like weapon-making) she now needs for survival. Chants of the Chumash tribe and traditional rhythms are interwoven with symbolic masks and interpretive dance to tell the story of Karana’s years of loneliness. Skin-tone bodysuits and loincloths solve the problem of depicting the traditional attire of the Channel Islands natives.
Bordona is outstanding as she grows from apprehensive child to confident survivalist, showing strong theatre skills. Without her abilities, the production would collapse like a jellyfish on land. Tozlian is charming as Romo, and mimes well as the dog Rontu. Mady Broach is smug and confident as Ulape, the older sister, and Emily Zuniga has some nice scenes as an Aleut girl who forms a brief, tender, clandestine friendship with the marooned Karana. Laura Tromborg (Jimmie Wyvette Verdeen in Second Space’s Red Velvet Cake Wars) lends authority as the Storyteller and a tribal leader.
Director and co-choreographer Tony Sanders (impressive as Tom in 2nd Space’s To Kill a Mockingbird) has brought his years of professionalism to the company, first in Los Angeles, now in Fresno. This summer, SHINE! teams with Peoples School of Creative Arts to offer two sets of two-week theatre camps for ages 4-7 (mornings) and ages 8-17 (full-day).
The real woman, called Juana Maria by the priests of Mission Santa Barbara, died of dysentery less than two months after being taken from the island, but her story will live in your heart.
Island of the Blue Dolphins finishes its run with performances at 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at the People’s Church Ministries Center Choir Room, 7172 N. Cedar Ave., on the east side of the complex. Tickets are $15, and $7.50 for students and seniors. Call (559) 549-4741 or go to www.shinetheatre.com.