- playing at Imagination Stage (Bethesda, MD)
- dates: now through August 10
- directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer & Eric J. Van Wyk
- Roar Score: 5/5
“Words’, he said, ‘is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life. So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I know exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around.”
Since my kids were very young, we’ve been fans of children’s theater. Indeed, many of the earliest plays and puppet shows we’ve attended are already out of their memory. With several fantastic theaters in the area, Zoey’s been to more plays in her five years than many people will ever see.
Imagination Stage in Bethesda, MD, consistently puts on some of the best children’s theater in the region. Some of their performances are among the best I’ve ever seen. Their production of Anime Momotaro in 2013 ranks not only as the finest piece of children’s theater I’ve ever seen but also among the best theater I’ve ever seen. Period. (And I’ve seen a lot of Broadway shows.)
Their current show is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, and they’ve got another certifiable winner. Blending traditional theater with larger-than-life puppets is nothing new (even for Imagination Stage, which utilized the approach for Aslan in their production of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe), but the giants here are simply captivating.
The story in a nutshell is about young Sophie, who is carried away by the BFG (Big, Friendly Giant)–the only friendly giant among a race of nasty, man-eating behemoths. The BFG is responsible for catching dreams and giving them to sleeping children. Adventures and mayhem ensure as Sophie and the BFG attempt to stop the other giants from marauding across England.
“What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announced rather grandly.”
The puppetry here isn’t as technical and “smooth” as something you might see in, say, War Horse, but that’s not really a fair comparison. The main puppeteers literally inhabit the giants (the puppets are in many respects enormous costumes), and even though the humans inside are visible to the audience, you do not see them for the giants they perform. Each giant also has three or four other puppeteers (dressed in black) operating the arms and legs. It’s quite remarkable.
As with many productions at Imagination Stage, the “theater magic” they employ really immerses the kids in the story. My two (ages 2 and 5) were spellbound from beginning to end. The stage is surrounded by the colorful, glowing dream jars the BFG uses to collect dreams, and this relatively sparse set design provides just the right amount of “wow factor” for kids upon entering the theater.
It must be said that The BFG (both the book and this play) is distinguished by the giant’s unique use of language, which might be difficult for the very youngest to follow. Made-up words abound (e.g., gobblefunk, babblement, whizpopper, crockadowndillies, snapperwhippers). Still, this language is a joy to hear and is part of the reason Dahl’s book is such a classic.
The 5yo enjoyed the play so much that she’s currently listening to the audio version of the original book. And really, isn’t that the best that can be said of children’s theater? Genuine entertainment and a desire for more?
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a special mention to Susan Lynskey, who plays the Queen of England in the second act. She steals the entire show. And that’s no mean feat when you’re sharing the stage with a gaggle of towering giants.
The show has quite a few performance before it closes on August 10. You should absolutely check it out. And, if it hasn’t been clear enough already, I can’t recommend Imagination Stage highly enough. Check out their upcoming season here.