Sept. 22 2010 12:00 AM

Taking a classic to court Mark Twain testifies at ’Trial of Tom Sawyer’

“Peter Pan” stirs up a hornet’s nest of FAA regulations. The average Three Stooges short implicates hundreds of tort law principles.

You don’t have to put on “12 Angry Men” to showcase the law on stage. There are lots of classic stories with fascinating, often overlooked legal implications.

What are the laws governing found treasure, phony funerals and abusive aunts?

Cooley Law School’s “Stages of the Law,” a series of legal-themed partnerships with five area theater companies, begins its 2010-2011 circuit with the Mid-Michigan Family Theatre’s adaptation of a Mark Twain classic, “Tom Sawyer.”

In “The Trial of Tom Sawyer,” Twain himself (Okemos actor Chuck Sartorius) takes the stage to host a series of vignettes from his classic book.

“She captured all the key scenes,” director Bill Gordon said of playwright Virginia Glasgow Koste. “The whitewashing of the fence, the graveyard scene, and so on.”

Gordon seems to consider performing the play a public service. He cited Twain’s famous aphorism that a classic is a book everybody praises but doesn’t read.

“He was foreshadowing his own writing,” Gordon said of Twain. “We wanted to bring to the stage a great story that, unfortunately, a lot of kids don’t have to read anymore.”

But Gordon added that the play would also appeal to those who have read the book dog-eared.

“The costumes and sets are all period,” he said. “You get to see what’s been in your mind’s eye.”

“Tom Sawyer” isn’t really about the law. Neither is “Trial,” which is more or less a faithful, folksy stage adaptation — “nostalgic,” Gordon described it.

But Twain’s saga is full of mayhem, minors and missing money, and that’s more than enough to pull plenty of strands in the legal web.

Cooley Law School associate professor Chris Church will talk about the story’s legal ramifications after the play Friday, Oct. 1.

When Tom and Huck Finn witness the murder of Doc Robinson in the graveyard, there arises the ethical dilemma of whether or not to report a crime, even if it endangers your safety to do so. There are also property issues regarding found treasure.

The more you leaf through “Tom Sawyer,” the more law you find.

Would modern DNA forensics have saved Tom from being smacked upside the head by Aunt Polly for the sugar bowl broken by his brother, Sid? Aunt Polly, though well-meaning, has a disturbing penchant for corporal punishment, leaving her open to several serious battery charges.

And then there’s the matter of Becky Thatcher and alienation of Tom’s affections.

Gordon is content to leave the law to Church and wrangle his young cast, including Jackson Hall of Haslett as Tom Sawyer, Kyle Sodman of Mason as Huck Finn, and Erin Deal of Williamston as Becky Thatcher.

Sartorius, who plays Twain, is a veteran of several Mid-Michigan Family Theatre shows, including “A Christmas Carol,” in which he played Scrooge.

’The Trial of Tom Sawyer’

Family Theatre Sept. 24-Oct. 3 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m.
Sundays $6 general admission, $4 preschool-age children (517) 339-2145