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‘Anne of Green Gables’ still holds magic for adults

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 1/27/2020 Matthew J. Palm
a woman holding a glass of wine © Courtesy Photo

As a girl, Jennifer Bonner found a kindred spirit in a fictional orphan accidentally sent to live on a Canadian farm.

“Anne was so strong,” said Bonner, an actor who lives in Orlando. “She was an optimist in an impossible situation.”

The Anne in question is Anne Shirley, the title character of the beloved 1908 novel “Anne of Green Gables” who also featured in a slew of sequels by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The classic work of young-adult literature became a favorite for screen adaptations, with both movies and television series winning the hearts of new fans.

A stage version of the story is playing at Orlando Repertory Theatre though Feb. 23 — and Bonner can’t wait to see it. She’s not alone in her desire to revisit Anne’s adventures as an adult. For some theatergoers, the play will become a multigenerational outing as new children travel to Anne’s home at Avonlea, a town in the Canadian maritime province of Prince Edward Island.

Jenny DeVor has been there to see the region for herself. On a trip to Canada with a friend, “I made her go to the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ house,” she said.

DeVor, who grew up in Orlando and lives in Kissimmee, remembers being obsessed with the series as a student.

“I used to bring a book to lunch,” she recalled, “and my friend would be like, ‘Put the book down and talk to me!”

In Anne, DeVor and Bonner saw a lot of characteristics with which girls could identify.

“Anne is super-awkward and feels ugly and has been unwanted,” DeVor said. “She’s a very lovable character. You immediately empathize with her. There are all these moments when you’re like, ‘I feel you, girl.’”

For Bonner, Anne provided encouragement.

“Growing up in the tiny town that I grew up in, with the dreams I had of leaving and being an actor, I was laughed at all the time,” she said. “Anne made me feel, well, not so alienated. Not so alone in my dreams.”

In “Anne of Green of Gables,” high-spirited Anne ends up in the small town of Avonlea by mistake. Siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert have asked an orphanage to send them a boy to work on their farm. But Anne arrives instead. As she gets into scrapes around town, she finds an unexpected home.

DeVor, a learning-solutions supervisor at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Lake Nona, appreciated that the book was populated mostly by females.

“It was rare for its time that it has a lot of fully developed women characters,” she said. “Anne is the driver of her life. She won’t let someone else define who she is.”

Adam Scheinberg hasn’t read “Anne of Green Gables.” But he’s using the show as a multigenerational get-together. Scheinberg will be joined by his wife, Jennifer; their children Jack and Jillian; and his mother, Wendy Carton. He approves of the show’s message to young people, especially girls, of confidence and empowerment.

“It’s definitely something I want my daughter to see,” he said. A vice president of Massey Services, Scheinberg also sits on the board of Orlando Rep.

His daughter “has done a little research” on the story and the character, he said. Both his children are looking forward to the show: “When the season gets announced, they know what titles they are excited about and check them out.”

Excited doesn’t begin to describe how DeVor and Bonner feel — though Devor points out the nostalgia factor puts pressure on the production to meet high expectations.

“I hope it will be good and they won’t ruin my childhood,” she said, laughing.

Bonner said it’s important for her adult self to reflect on what Anne taught her as a child.

“I think sometimes I need a reminder to remember to continue to forge my own path, to be strong,” Bonner said. “I get choked up just thinking about watching it with my mom or reading the day away on the front porch and dreaming of all the things I wanted. And you know something? Just like Anne, I got them.”

‘Anne of Green Gables’

  • What: Play based on the 1908 novel
  • Where: Orlando Repertory Theatre, 1001 E. Princeton St., Orlando
  • When: Through Feb. 23
  • Cost: $15-$35
  • Info: orlandorep.org or 407-896-7365

Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts or email me at mpalm@orlandosentinel.com. Want more news and reviews of theater and other arts? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts

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