Theatre IV’s The BFG
Theatre IV’s The BFG is now playing at the Empire Theater until March 8th. I’m going to keep this brief, and say this adaptation was below expectations. Having seen Theater IV’s magical performance of The Velveteen Rabbit last December, I was disappointed with this production’s lack of childhood charm and storytelling. (And despite what others are saying, it was palpable to me that the youngsters just weren’t enjoying it either.) The 1989 animated film was a lot better than this and the kids would have enjoyed it just as much – perhaps a little more.
Although children’s theater, I’m not going to give this work a pass for not accentuating its relationship to the Acts of Faith Festival (besides them saying the contrary on paper). My philosophy towards children’s theater is not just to entertain, but most importantly, to educate young theatergoers. And what better time in the Richmond theater season then to educate youthful patrons on the necessity for theater to exist for our faith communities, and even more importantly in our broader community? (Especially now when our current administration is calling for deep cuts to our nation’s arts programs!)
The BFG is a metaphor to the concept that God and human beings learn mutually from one another, and more importantly, that God can learn from a child. In the original production, The BFG has a speech disorder – stuttering to be clinically precise – who learns quite a lot from a precocious young girl, Sophie (played marvelously by Ellie Wilson. Someone get this girl a membership to Actors’ Equity snap!). This mutual learning develops into a friendship throughout the storyline.
In this particular performance, however, a genuine friendship never seemed to fully develop on Saturday night. Therefore, the religious metaphor struggled, and consequently this production’s place in the Acts of Faith Festival did as well.
The performances were tepid. David Bridgewater seems to confuse shouting with humor, and his character portrayal reminded me too much of a recent production of Shrek The Musical that I saw in Chicago last year. But, young thespians Ellie Wilson and Cooper Timberline are talented in their roles.
Act I wasn’t very visually entertaining, but the young ones seemed to like the British accents and Sophie’s dream sequence was the funniest part of the show. Director Chase Kniffen seemed to have trouble though with the staging the most: everyone appears in profile way too much from beginning to end. Technically, I never judge any production by the opulence of its set, although there were some surprising set pieces like the bubbles and it was neat that the set was mobile.
Congratulations to Wendy Vandergrift as stage manager. Probably without her able assistance, the cast wouldn’t have been able to do costume changes so impressively quick as they did.
“The BFG” runs through March 8, 2011 at the Empire Theater. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.theatreivrichmond.org/. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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