Chicago Theatre Review
What Children’s Dreams May Come
The BFG – Emerald City Theatre
One night, while sitting alone in her dark, dreary orphanage bedroom, little Sophie is suddenly snatched from her bed by a 24-foot giant with oversized ears and a heart to match. He’s called the BFG, the Big Friendly Giant. This behemoth isn’t, of course, planning to hurt Sophie. He’s attempting to save her from the jaws of his ravenous, fellow giants, who are as dimwitted as they are huge.
Insatiable appetites have driven these ornery, child-eating ogres to leave Giant Country each night searching the world for delicious “human beans” to fill their bellies. The kindly BFG, however, is a vegetarian and survives on a diet of foul-tasting snozzcumbers and a delicious, flatulent (or whizzpopping)-inducing drink called frobscottle. He spends his nights secretly collecting jars of dreams and traveling the world, blowing them into the bedrooms of boys and girls.
In order to save the world from these brutal, cannibalistic giants, Sophie and the BFG pay a visit to the Queen of England. Together they convince her to employ the Royal Heads Armed Forces to round up the savage giants and deliver them to a huge pit in England, where they’ll remain prisoners forever. Thus, evil is punished, good’s rewarded and everyone lives happily ever after.
British actor and award-winning playwright David Wood has adapted Roald Dahl’s popular children’s novel for the stage (a Dreamworks film version is rumored to be released in 2016), just as he has with the author’s books The Witches, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Twits. In addition to employing live actors, Wood’s script demands several characters be portrayed by Tabletop or Body Puppets of various sizes, which are amazingly fashioned to precisely resemble the actors they represent (thanks to the artistry of a group called the Rough House Theatre). This production also utilizes a great deal of shadow puppetry, as well. In addition, the playwright has incorporated into the play’s dialogue most of Roald Dahl’s delightfully colorful and inventive vocabulary. The six barbarian giants, for instance, are named Meatdripper, Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher, Childchewer, Gizzardgulper and Fleshlumpeater. Mr. Wood’s script is a director’s delight because he provides all kinds of opportunities for creativity and fun.
And fun and creativity are precisely what director Morgan Ashley Madison has infused into her production. Utilizing every inch of the Apollo Theatre, Ms. Madison stages her agile, athletic young cast everywhere. Shortly after springing center stage into the spotlight her actors suddenly and magically reappear parading down the aisles and into the audience. Michelle Lilly’s multipurpose set and Claire Chrzan’s magical lighting design allow for a focus and flexibility that continually surprises young audience members while keeping them engaged in the story. Both Tierra G. Novy’s imaginative props and Robert Kuhn’s whimsical costumes provide more visuals that fascinate and enchant.
So excellent in Remy Bumppo’s shattering production of “Our Class,” Aram Monisoff brings charm and a goofy heroic appeal to the BFG. At home, both as an actor and a puppet master, Mr. Monisoff easily transitions between the real and the imagined. Bella Coelho plays Sophie with loving care and strong determination. Equally adept as a real girl and with her puppet selves, Ms. Coelho becomes a regular knight in a red nightie. The remaining seven actors play multiple roles, with Jeff Meyer’s Monty Python-inspired ogre, Meatdripper, a particular, hilarious standout. John Keating (who can also be seen in Griffin Theatre’s “Titanic”) is delightfully coupled with Meyer as the Heads of the Army and Air Force, as well as playing a frighteningly funny giant named Bloodbottler. As Queen Elizabeth (and others) Judy Knudtson makes a properly regal and quite amusing monarch.
Emerald City’s unique, special brand of family-friendly humor, memorable characters and colorful, eye-popping spectacle enhances David Wood’s faithful adaptation of this children’s classic. Brought to life by an imaginative director, her creative support team and a multi-talented cast, this mildly scary, often funny multimedia production brings young audiences into the world of the lovable Big Friendly Giant and his friends. As part of their season of Small Heroes and Big Dreams, hopefully this will be just the beginning of Emerald City’s exploration of the world of Roald Dahl.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 25-January 4 by Emerald City Theatre at the Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-529-2690 or by going to www.EmeraldCityTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.