After suffering through the first ponderous, overly epic Hobbit movie, it was a relief to attend last weekend’s performance of The Hobbit at the Wheelock Family Theater. The play had a whimsical, homemade quality and relied mostly on kid actors. It reminded me that The Hobbit is a children’s book written to entertain–not, as certain filmmakers would have us believe–created so bearded actors could monologue on fate and courage and whatnot.
The actors clearly had a lot of fun. Most of the dwarves were kids with (hilarious) fake beards who spoke in a mishmash of British accents. (One of the dwarves was so small she could fit into a barrel—and she did, which makes sense if you remember a certain detail from the plot). Bilbo, played by one of the few adult actors (Andrew Barbato), was quite convincing as the unexpected hero. But my vote for best actor goes to the Elven Queen (Monique Nicole McIntyre), who had more stage presence than anyone else, despite having just a few lines. She made the elves look dignified and respectable, which, given their abysmal costumes and drunkenness (more on that later), is quite a feat.
A lot of the fun came from seeing what the theater could do with a limited budget. They used stairs and lighting tricks to make the stage look bigger than it was, and the costumes were simply ingenious. Some highlights:
- the Mirkwood spiders will surely inspire great Halloween costumes. They used stiff gray capes and dangling plastic legs, and fantastic headpieces with silver Christmas tree ornaments for eyes (eight of them per person).
- furry hobbit feet were solved by stick-on yarn patches. I’m surprised no one’s foot hair fell off.
- the dwarves sang songs from the book as they traveled. It helped set the scene for their quirky adventure, and made the small stage seem larger than it was.
- playwright Patricia Gray kept the plot rolling along nicely. Instead of stopping in Rivendell so Elrond could decipher the moon letters, Gandalf does that at the beginning in Bag’s End. But fear not, instead of drunken elves in Rivendell, we get drunken elves in Mirkwood.
- ah yes, those Mirkwood elves. As much as I admired most of the costumes, it really fell apart for these elves. They looked like cheetahs. Cheetahs in trees—skintight animal print clothing with green skirts and dresses. It was pretty hard to take them seriously, despite the whole locking-up-the-dwarves problem.
- and Smaug? I won’t ruin the surprise, but it was impressive. He did tend to drown out Bilbo’s voice, which is a shame.
So, while I wasn’t exactly wowed by the acting, I had a good time. Besides, with a 1h45min running time, this play could teach Peter Jackson a lot about the virtues of a condensed script.