It seems like an eternity since I explored the idea of living forever way back in fifth grade while reading the children’s classic, “Tuck Everlasting,” by Natalie Babbitt.
The story follows Winnie Foster, an adventurous girl who befriends the Tuck family, only to discover they’re hiding a huge secret: they drank from a water spring—and now they’re immortal.
Like many 9-year-olds, I thought being immortal would be super cool. To live forever and witness the years, decades, centuries go by and never get any older? What could be better?
Turns out, death might be a better fate in the long run. If you live forever, you also have to watch people you love die. If you keep going on and on, life ends up being full of endless grief, not perpetual joy. (As Angus Tuck says in the book, “You can’t have living without dying.”)
Maybe living forever wouldn’t be so great after all.
The Tuck family, from left, Angus (Mark Seeba), Mae (Myra Nowak), Jesse (Max Devick) and Miles (Jacob Kalvoda). Contributed Photo/Tin Roof Theatre
Tin Roof Theatre Company welcomes audiences to question their own perspectives on immortality during its stage adaptation of “Tuck Everlasting,” written by Babbitt’s son-in-law, Mark Frattaroli, and directed by Tin Roof company member and longtime Fargo teacher Mark Seeba.
Tin Roof brings “Tuck Everlasting” to Moorhead’s Hjemkomst Center on Nov. 4, 5 and 6, and again on Nov. 10, 11 and 12. Times and tickets are at www.tinrooftheatre.org.
Playing on emotions
I told Seeba that I first read “Tuck Everlasting” in Mr. Foley’s class at Lewis and Clark Elementary back in 1987.
“Of course! I student taught with Mr. Dronen (another Lewis and Clark legend). I stole a lot of his tricks,” Seeba said.
Aside from reaffirming the fact that living in Fargo means you’re always going to know somebody who knows somebody who’s probably your cousin, Seeba recognizes “Tuck Everlasting” as an opportunity to teach students about making important decisions.
“Natalie Babbitt definitely wanted people to think immortality is not everything that it’s cracked up to be, but we want people to make up their own minds and get that message across. And we want people to be entertained,” Seeba said.
Starring Craig Roath as The Man in the Yellow Suit, Seeba as Angus Tuck, Myra Nowak as Mae Tuck, and Max Devick and Jacob Kalvoda as the Tuck brothers Jesse and Miles, “Tuck Everlasting” also addresses themes of nature, family ties, love and loyalty.
In her debut stage performance, Fargo 6th-grader Katie Brown plays Winnie Foster, a strong female protagonist akin to Hermione Granger of Harry Potter, Seeba said, who often reads “Tuck Everlasting” in his classes.
“Some of those great stories are so male dominated,” Seeba said. “This one is female and she really reflects strength.”
Brown started her acting career attending programs at Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead. “Tuck Everlasting” is her first full-length performance, as well as her first leading role.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity because it’s the first time I’ve done a play other than Trollwood,” Brown said. “Doing this has been really fun and challenging.”
Playing by the book
I asked Brown if, in her opinion, the screenplay accurately reflected the book. Admittedly, she’d read the play but was only part-way through the novel (What would Mr. Foley think?), though she had watched the 2002 Disney movie starring a then-20-year-old Alexis Bledel of “The Handmaid’s Tale” fame.
“It was, like, not accurate,” Brown said, pointing out Bladell’s “advanced age” when “Winnie is supposed to be like twelve or fourteen.”
Tin Roof Theatre’s Treasurer, Founding Member and oft-cast actor Karla Pederson agrees. She’s been with Tin Roof since its birth in 2005 and appreciates when screenplays maintain accuracy on stage.
“One of Babbitt’s issues with the movie versions and the musical is it didn’t stick with the book,” Pederson said. “Frattaroli made a point to make sure the play sticks with the real story. … The voices that speak as narrators to open and throughout the play to tie things together are pulled directly from the book,” Pederson said.
Playing the bad guy
Of course, no good story is complete without someone you hate.
That’s where Roath comes in. He plays the character called The Man in the Yellow Suit.
A veteran on the stage and well-known for his appearance in many local television commercials, Roath welcomes parts in productions that challenge the idea of good versus bad, right versus wrong.
“I love playing those characters because you can be a little nasty and let it rip a little bit. And this character in particular is just so subtle the way he talks to people. He knows what he wants and he knows how to manipulate other people to get what he wants,” Roath said.
The Man in the Yellow Suit symbolizes many human emotions, and that’s what makes the part such an interesting juxtaposition to what ends up being a celebration of Winnie’s ability to make difficult choices in light of intense temptation.
Of course, “Tuck Everlasting” isn’t just for nine-year-old kids wishing they could be immortal. In reminiscing about reading the book for the first time myself many, many years ago, I started thinking all over again about if I could drink from the Tucks’ water spring, would I?
Probably not, but the fact that Babbitt’s story keeps me thinking about everlasting life more than three decades after I read it means the story itself is most certainly a timeless one.
Roath said, “This is a very good story and good for all ages. There’s a lot of different parts in it with some very touching scenes, and you know, a few laughs going on, too. A good variety for that stuff.”
After all, variety is the spice of (mortal) life.
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About the author
Lonna Whiting is a freelance writer and owner of lonna.co, a content marketing and communications agency located in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a frequent contributor to The Arts Partnership’s content library and also provides strategic communications consultation to the organization.