Wednesday, March 9, 2011

THE HOBBIT (Children's Play)

So, late last week I got an email from The Monkey King (thanks, Wolf) asking if I knew about the upcoming production of THE HOBBIT at the Bathhouse Theater in Green Lake Park. This was news to me, but following the link he'd sent made it clear this was something I'd probably enjoy, so I joined him and Miss Heidi for the two o'clock showing on Saturday the 5th (Janice being under the weather, she decided to give it a pass).

It was interesting, and a confirmation of my recently evolved opinion that adaptations of Tolkien's work surprise most not in what they leave out but in what they add (see below). In this case, in only forty minutes or so they got in most of the plot of THE HOBBIT; the only things I noticed they left out being the Wargs, the Eagles, and the Spiders. They had some fun with characterization, depicting the elves of Rivendell as blase loungers, cocktail shaker or martini glass in hand, who bestir themselves from their ennui long enough to exchange pleasantries with their guests.* The men of Lake Town were more like Secret Service types, oddly enough -- maybe they just liked the corporate look? Smaug was played by a team of four actors -- one controlling the head, the next carrying his two front legs, the next bearing his wings, and the last controlling the back legs and carrying the tail: they all four spoke in unison, which was a nice touch.

Of course, covering so much meant they raced through each scene; typically they'd enter an area, encounter some new folks (trolls, elves, goblins, elves, lake-men), exchange a few lines, and then move on to the next scene. I do give them points that they include all thirteen members of Thorin & Company in the 'Unexpected Party' (out of a total cast of eighteen, including Bilbo and Gandalf means fifteen of them are on stage at the same time here), though thereafter they strip it down to Bilbo, Thorin, and a handful (four or five) other dwarves, with others doubling up as goblins &c as needed. The cast was mixed boys & girls in roughly equal measure, with no particular distinction in matching up gender of actor with character (e.g. Bilbo and Gandalf were played by boys, Thorin by a girl, &c)

The biggest departure from Tolkien's original is in the frame story they've added: the play opens with a kid ("John") reading in bed being told to turn out the light; after he obliges and switches to reading under the covers with a flashlight he's told again by his offstage father to quit reading and go to sleep. No soon does he than Gandalf enters, addresses him as "Bilbo", and the story begins.** At the very end he lies back down in bed, wakes up, and begins writing a story beginning "In a Hole in the Ground there lived a Hobbit . . . " In short, Bilbo here is the dream-self of JRRT himself, a point acknowledged by the actor playing Bilbo in the question-and-answer session that followed the end of the play, where he said "I'm John Something Something Tolkien". It's not their fault that this brushes up against something that's developing into a pet peeve of mine -- the idea that Tolkien just sort of stumbled across his story rather than did the hard work of coming up with it himself (a thesis much more to the fore in Hillard's pseudo-Tolkien novel MIRKWOOD, about which more in another post). At any rate, it works pretty well as a framing device for this play.

Oddly enough, the program doesn't credit the playwright at all. Nor does Tolkien's name appear anywhere on it, as you'd expect (e.g., "based on the novel by . . ."). The director (the only adult involved, who joined the cast onstage for the Q&A after the show) said they'd gotten the script online via Google and that one of the changes they'd made was to change the boy's name from "Billy" to "John".*** The actor who played Gandalf (one of the twelve-year-olds) said he'd added a few bits, but I don't remember him specifying which ones.

For a cast whose ages ranged between ten and twelve, with some crewmembers as old as fifteen, it was an impressive achievement, and far better than the puppet-play of THE HOBBIT I saw in St. Paul back circa 1995, my only previous experience with seeing THE HOBBIT on stage (although Janice and I did see an enjoyable small-theater version of LotR in Chicago in 1997 where it was impressive how much they did with so little).

Here's the link:


most recent book finished: A RED HERRING WITHOUT THE MUSTARD by Alan Bradley (the third 'Flavia de Luce' novel)

*in the link describing the production, check out the helpfully labelled "MAP" in Elrond's hands.

**this meant Bilbo wore pajamas throughout his adventure; whether this was a deliberate nod to Dent Arthur Dent or not I don't know, but I suspect so.

***I haven't had much luck finding their version online myself; if anyone comes across it, I'd appreciate a heads-up.

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