A scene from The BFG. Photo courtesy of StageOne
By Roald Dahl
Directed by Andrew D. Harris
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
StageOne Family Theatre opens its new season with one of Roald Dahl’s lesser-known stories, which means it is a near-classic, not quite iconic, but still rich in fantasy and invention.
It also affords a marvelous opportunity for collaboration with Squallis Puppeteers, who provide oversize puppets for a community of rapacious giants. Andy Gaukel also contributes ingeniously designed shadow puppets that economically expand the narrative reach of expository sequences.
Dahl’s story of a girl named Sophie (Gracie Taylor) befriending the BFG (Big Friendly Giant), who teaches her about eating a vegetable called “Snozzcumber” (unpleasant), drinking fizzy bottles of “Frobscottle” (delightful), is an edgy comic adventure. Other giants are larger and more evil than the BFG, and given to eating humans (a frightening act staged with discretion in the shadow play), reminding us that Dahl is a successor to the great, frightening fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm. Children’s storytelling is best when it is bold and fully committed to confronting fear.
Of course, the lessons land more easily when sandwiched in humor, and The BFG delivers that in good supply, and truly hits a grand slam home run in a deliriously silly scene of “whizzpopping,” in which the aforementioned “Frobscottle” causes sophomoric but irresistible flatulence. Farts are always funny.
In scenes that frame the primary narrative, the play exchanges the orphanage of the original book for a conventionally stable family unit, but the power of the story is in the depth of fantasy it reaches as Sophie and the BFG engage with royalty to defeat the hostile giants.
There is also some intriguing business about the BFG feeding the dreams of children, and these scenes provide the cast some of their best opportunity to shine out from under the Squallis constructions. It is a solid ensemble that includes Rita Hight, Lucas Adams, Brandis DeWilligen, Ben Evans, Katherine Martin, and Jon O’Brien.
Terry Schwab plays the BFG with great, mischievious charm and without benefit of a puppet – sort of, and another fascination is how director Andrew D. Harris plays with a variance of scale as the action develops. It is a vivid staging that just maintains narrative coherence while embracing a sense of spectacle.
October 10, 17*, 24, & 31 @ 2:00pm
StageOne Family Theatre
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.