Yes, Virginia, there really are vicious, ugly giants who will eat you in your sleep.
The latest production at Lexington Children's Theatre reveals this unfortunate truth, but not without offering a super-size solution revealed in the play's title, The BFG (Big Friendly Giant).
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The story centers on Sophie (Brianna Mayo), a young British orphan who spies a giant (Kristen Smiley, as the BFG) lurking outside her bedroom window one evening. Knowing he has been spotted, the giant whisks Sophie away to his secret lair in the Land of Giants. But instead of eating her (as other giants would), he befriends her, delighting her with his funny tales and his goofy, peculiar way of speaking ”giant.“ He even shows her how he is a ”dreamblower,“ a giant who collects dreams in colorful jars and later blows them into the minds of sleeping children so that they will be happy. Unfortunately for the BFG, his benevolent ways earn him lots of scorn from the other, mean, child-eating giants, and he is routinely picked on and bullied.
When the pair learn that the other giants plan to target the children of England as their next meals, they concoct a far-fetched plan to save the day. This plan involves dream potions, a visit to the queen of England's bedroom, and vanquishing a dreary orphanage, among other things.
Based on the book by Roald Dahl and adapted for the stage by David Wood, The BFG is a goofy, giant tale of how unlikely friendships and the right mix of dreams and determination can defeat even the nastiest of monsters.
Likewise, director Jeremy Kisling's larger-than-life show has just the right mix of squeal-in-the-dark terror tempered with big old goofy silliness. The result is a fun romp that occasionally teeters on the edge of over-ambition.
This giant ambition works most of the time. For instance, lighting designer Adam Spencer gets to go nuts (in a good way) with wildly dramatic effects that delighted the young audience when I saw the show. They relished the chance to scream and squirm during the moody, strobe-lit sequences when the monstrous giants were ”hunting“ children just like them.
Such squeals of terror (the kind you make on a roller coaster) were replaced with generous ”oohs“ and ”ahhs“ over the beautifully rendered ”dream-catching“ sequence, which incorporated a black light and a chandelier of sparkles to create an enchanting, surreal effect. Plus, the lucky kids who happened to wear white scored some extra-cool points with their peers by briefly glowing in the dark.
I would be remiss not to mention that in the performance I attended, the children might have gotten the biggest kick out of a big friendly set piece that made an unexpectedly smashing entrance toward the end of the play. Let's just say that the Union Jack fell in dramatic fashion, but it was quickly recovered and restored by some royally classy, quick-thinking young actors. What can you say — it's live theater!
Despite the occasional glitch, the show relies on a good deal of technical wizardry, including Lindsay Schmeling's monster-size costumes. Kisling also employs innovative techniques to emphasis the vast difference in scale between Sophie and the BFG, including the use of a doll to represent Sophie at times, or a giant, moving cutout silhouette to represent the BFG.
Still, the most challenging and rewarding aspect of this show is its mastery of playful language. The BFG, and all the other giants, it seems, have a delightfully absurd, peculiar way of talking that includes a vocabulary of almost entirely made-up or mispronounced words. The giants like to eat ”human beans,“ although the BFG subsists on the disgusting ”snozcumbers,“ which he washes down with a fizzy drink called ”frobscottle.“ Unlike humans, giants enjoy the melodious digestive effects of this drink — the, um, explosive fun of ”whizpopping.“ Sometimes it is hard to follow the language of the play, and other times, the meanings of words are hilariously obvious based on their sounds alone.
All in all, this show offers a giant dose of fun.