It takes a lot of imagination and defiant boldness to take on Roald Dahl’s The BFG, (Big Friendly Giant). The tale goes into dark scary places generally not depicted in family theater and can be brightened only so much. The idea of a little girl still in her “jammy jams” being snatched screaming out of her window by a hulking giant and carted away to a dark secluded place, well, it’s rough. But that’s the story.
The giant is introduced from the very beginning in silhouette, writing his tales, his image taken directly from the book illustrations, pointed nose, big ears, grinning mouth, puppets and stage wondrously designed by Eric J. Van Wyk.
BFG is the gentle keeper of dreams that he stores in brilliant iridescent ever-changing colored bottles. The vials light the stage, cascading in a beautiful archway in a half-crescent, bringing a sense of calm beauty to counter the potential horror of the bewitching hour.
From the beginning, (and story description) we know that BFG is friendly, so the snatching becomes somewhat palatable, sort of. Plus, the directors gently ease us into the scene with the subdued aqua, turquoise and lavender colors along the set. But then the other gruesome parts show how tame the opening sequence really is.
James Konicek is wonderfully cast in the leading role with a caramel-coated baritone voice that caresses every word he utters. His voice could charm birds out of trees, dripping with sincerity and care, and makes the trip worth taking. Megan Graves as Sophie is the other plucky sure-fire winner of a performer who takes her lumps, gets up, cleans off her glasses and proceeds along the journey. She plays an orphan with a heart of gold and wit to match—just watch her plumb ferocity in the face of being eaten, chomped alive by one of the scary brood.
And scary they are. The other giants are indeed monsters, amazingly effective costume and puppetry combo show them at their chomping, drooling best. Veteran actor Maboud Ebrahimzadeh gives as ferocious a performance as “Meat Dripper” as he’s portrayed in any of his “grown-up” roles in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and Scorched to name a couple gems.
He’s joined by fellow talented performers Matthew Schleigh, Matthew McGee, Jon Hudson Odom, and Alex Vernon, lurching in hulking full-sized puppet gear.
In a fun twist in sizing scale, Konicek enters one of the scenes without the giant puppet limbs, just the mask, while the others tease and torment him, making them look even more gi-normous.
THE BFG (Big Friendly Giant)
Closes August 10, 2014
4908 Auburn Avenue
1 hour, 50 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $10 – $25
Tuesdays thru Sundays
When Sophie gets the idea to consult the Queen to keep the monsters from attacking more cities and gobbling children, the BFG crosses miles of terrain with large leaps assisted by his handlers and nicely orchestrated video projections.
Kathryn Chase Bryer, who also directed Peter and Wendy assures an energetic non-sentimental approach throughout and effectively stages the monsters actually partaking of children morsels—somehow the buildings in miniature and paper doll people on popsicle sticks relay the message without Godzilla-like mayhem. Composer and sound design by Christopher Baine keeps the fear factor in high gear with floor-rattling thumping for footsteps.
Of course, Susan Lynskey gets a vigorous nod in various roles and nails the mannerisms of the Queen in some of the funniest bits of the show. Ebrahimzadeh goes from scary to drag as the Nordic Queen, and Austin Sargent is a hoot as head butler carting loads of provisions to feed the BFG.
A Pretty Pretty Princess tale this is not, so save the wand for another outing. This one has grit, bellowing flatulence known as “whiz poppers,” child-crunching giant teeth, and an orphan with enough confidence to stare down the scariest monster and ask the Queen of England for help. If a lonely little orphan girl can do it, then why not anybody else? Sophie cares and dares enough to face her biggest fears making us all feel we could step outside our comfort zones and be a bit more courageous, too, in confronting our own giants.
Imagination Stage recommends this as most suitable for ages 5 – 10.
The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) . Based on book by Roald Dahl, Adapted by David Wood . Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and Eric J. Van Wyk . Featuring Megan Graves, James Konicek, Susan Lynskey, Emily Kester, Alex Vernon, Jon Hudson Odom, Matthew McGee, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Matthew Schleigh, Angi Smolik, and Austin Sargent. Set, properties and projections design: Eric J. Van Wyk . Lighting design: Jason Arnold . Sound design: Christopher Baine . Costume design: Jeffrey Stolz . Movement consultant: Ben Cunis . Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.