Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The BFG (Big Friendly Giant)
The BFG is based on a book by Roald Dahl, but it doesn't just tell the story from the book. At the beginning of the play, a girl named Sophie gets a copy of the book (it's her favorite book) from her brother as a birthday present, so she and her family and their friends decide to act out the scenes from the book. So the play really gives kids a great lesson in the power of imagination.
Sophie plays the heroine from the book (who is also named Sophie), and in the story she gets snatched from her bed in a nasty orphanage by the Big Friendly Giant - the only giant who doesn't eat people. The BFG protects Sophie from the mean giants in Giant Country, who have names like Bonecruncher, Fleshlumpeater and Gizzardgulper. They try to eat Sophie, but she escapes. Then Sophie and the BFG try to prevent the mean giants from stealing and devouring all the children of the world, and that means they have to go to Buckingham Palace to get the Queen of England to help them.
The BFG has his own wacky language that Sophie can't figure out at first, but eventually she figures out what he means when he says, "You poor little scrumplet!" and "Is you calling me a fibster?" There are also some scenes where Sophie tags along as the BFG goes "dreamcollecting" - he collects dreams, then uses a trumpet to blow them into the minds of children as they sleep. Like everything else in this show (directed by Whit MacLaughlin), the scenes are played with a wide-eyed earnestness that is truly heartwarming. They capture the essence of Roald Dahl's magical world perfectly.
In the play-within-a-play, Sophie's dad plays the BFG. To show how much bigger than humans the BFG is, Sophie acts out a lot of her scenes with a puppet that looks just like her. Sophie and the Giant are played by Maggie Lakis and Peter Pryor, who give wonderfully sweet and sincere performances; they have terrific chemistry. Lakis is also very impressive as a puppeteer; the Sophie puppet was designed by Aaron Cromie, and he also designed the larger-than-life headpieces that the giants wear. Jake thought they were really cool.
The other actors are very funny in supporting roles. I especially liked Catharine K. Slusar, who plays Sophie's mother and also has a droll turn as the queen. And Ben Dibble and Jared Michael Delaney have some hilarious moments of slapstick as the queen's military men.
Jake thought some scenes in The BFG might be scary for little kids. He was right; after the show I talked to a dad who said his three-year-old daughter was frightened at times. (The show is recommended for kids five and up.) But older kids won't mind it too much. And they'll definitely like the jokes about farting - or, as the BFG calls it, "whizzpopping." (They don't overdo it with those jokes, though.) Also, since the show is only 90 minutes long, it would work better if they just skipped the 15-minute intermission and played it straight through to the end.
The BFG is a lovely tale told with great affection; you never feel as if the actors are talking down to the kids in the audience. The Arden's production is intimate, but the staging is far from simplistic. If you're a grownup, you'll probably like it almost as much as the kids in the audience do. And maybe, if you're a kid like Jake, you'll think it's, like, the best play ever.
Jake asked me what I think the best play ever is; I said Death of a Salesman. He hasn't seen that one yet. Maybe he will when he's older.
The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) runs through January 21, 2007 at the Arden Theatre Company, 40 North Second Street. Ticket prices range from $14 to $30 and may be purchased by calling the Arden Box Office at 215-922-1122, online at www.ardentheartre.org or in person at the box office.
The BFG (Big