Tag Archives: David Wood

Fun with fruit

This post features the cartoon art of Lilly Fluger from http://www.lillyarts.com

I don’t get out to Peoria for Theater Works productions nearly as often as I’d like to because it feels too far a drive for those of us who get overwhelmed by guilt enjoying more than ten minutes of down time.

Those who live in the Northwest Valley are fortunate to have this theater company so close to home. Parents in other parts of the Valley who are free of my many hang-ups (which is most of you) will find it well worth the drive.

Theater Works performs at the modestly-sized but perfectly polished Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, as does their youth theater company Youth Works.

Upcoming shows include “Chicago” (Theater Works), “Footloose” (Youth Works) and “Winnie the Pooh” (Youth Works). Theater Works also offers workshops, camps and various special events throughout the season.

I attended the opening performance of “James and the Giant Peach” last weekend. It’s being performed through Feb 20 in the venue’s small “black box” theater.

I love intimate venues for works performed for children, because audience members are close to the action — making it easier for little ones to stay attentive and really feel a part of the show.

Children love watching other young people perform, and the audience for Saturday’s matinee clearly enjoyed the show.

The story takes place in and around a giant peach-shaped set piece — which turns fairly often as lights go down and scene changes occur. It’s simple but well-suited to the tale.

I enjoyed the lighting — especially the use of black lights as glow-in-the-dark fish accompanied James and his friends on an oceanic adventure.

I also loved the costumes. Dresses with rich-looking fabrics for the comical pair of aunts who pick on James nearly non-stop. Headgear for the earthworm who helps to save the day when sharks cross paths with the floating peach.

Even fun tights and funky hats. Thumbs up as well for hair and make-up design. It’s clear that all involved are thrilled to be playing with the “steam punk” vibe.

Part of the show’s charm comes late in the second act (there’s one intermission) when James and his crew invite audience members to come up and feel the giant peach. This is fun wth fruit at its finest. Sit in the front row if you’re game.

There’s a benefit to sitting in the back rows as well, which seem to allow for easier viewing of a small screen over the performance area (there is no raised stage for this production). The screen features puppetry mirroring much of the action of the play.

It’s clearly a talented cast — which includes two pairs of siblings (one homeschooled). Some are longtime Youth Works actors, while others are making their first appearance on stage.

It’s always refreshing to find a cast that combines actors with various backgrounds and experience levels. Based on what I saw of the cast after the show, it’s a caring and cohesive bunch — something that’s ever so important for children just venturing into the performing arts.

Outside of Theater Works, these kids are involved in all sorts of things — including the Junior Thespian Society, choral performance, Irish step dancing, student council and much more.

“James and the Giant Peach,” adapted by David Wood, is based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. The Theater Works production is directed by Chris Hamby.

Read the book. See the play. Then encourage your children to create their own giant adventures. And just this once, let them play with their fruit.

– Lynn

Note: Visit www.lillyarts.com to enjoy more work by artist Lilly Fluger

Coming up: Channeling J-Lo?, In the doghouse, Tales of a ten year old, Lucky #13?

Human beans and hungry giants

You discover, once you’re a parent, that some things—from sibling rivalry to homework battles—are nearly unavoidable. So it is with certain children’s authors, such as Seuss, Silverstein and Dahl.

My kids read plenty of Roald Dahl books during elementary school, mostly at the behest of teachers who seemed to be charmed themselves by titles like Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Dahl’s interest in writing children’s books was fueled by his delight in crafting stories for two young daughters—Tessa and Olivia. Often he writes with the perspective of a child caught in a world of extremely silly or insensitive grown-ups.

Truthfully, the world of Roald Dahl has never really spoken to me—until now. It was seeing Childsplay perform “The Big Friendly Giant” recently at Tempe Center for the Arts that opened my eyes to the wonders of Roald Dahl, even to the wonders of the world in general.

“The BFG” opens with a little girl, Sophie, tucked away in her room—but still able to hear the shrill calls of demanding adults. Come bedtime, Sophie spies a giant creature outside her window.

Soon Sophie (played by Debra K. Stevens) is snatched up and taken back to the BFG’s humble home, where the BFG (played by Dwayne Hartford) explains that he means her no harm. It’s simply what a giant must do once a human learns of its existence.

Still, he’s no ordinary giant. He’s actually rather small by giant standards, and not at all fierce like giants with names like Gizzardgulper, Bonecruncher and Childchewer.

His fellow giants find humans quite tasty, but the BFG has a different palate and a distinctive pastime. He catches dreams—then distributes them to their rightful owners.

Meanwhile, terror is afoot in Europe—where there’s talk of giants feasting on children snatched in growing numbers. Sophie and the BFG come to the rescue, proving that folks who are quite different can unite in pursuit of a good and common goal.

Along the way, we meet several giants rocking an almost “Where the Wild Things Are” vibe—as well as a couple of queens with accents that leave the audience howling.

The Queen of England is played by Katie McFadzen and the Queen of Scotland by Laura Berger (in Berger’s case, picture Betty White—on steroids).

Sidekicks Jon Gentry (Head of the Army) and D. Scott Withers (Head of the Air Force) up the funny factor in their bumbling, albeit dedicated, service to England’s Queen.

In the end, of course, that pesky human-eating habit is resolved through teamwork and trust.

Along the way, we’re charmed by unique giant customs like “whizzpopping”—the delightful consequence of drinking carbonated beverages in which the bubbles travel down rather than up.

It certainly made an impression on the three 4th and 5th grade boys seated in front of me, who turned to me during intermission to note that the subject matter might not be appropriate for “little kids.”

Childsplay recommends “The BFG” for ages six and up—and when they say “and up” they mean it. Grown-ups attending “The Big Friendly Giant” laughed every bit as often and outrageously as the younger set.

As always, Childsplay does a masterful job of expanding learning opportunities beyond the curtain call. A “talk back” with cast members after the show covered everything from examples of bravery exhibited by various characters to how certain props and lights are operated during the show.

Guests leaving the theater after the show receive a “For the ride home…” handout thanks to Childsplay’s “360º Theatre” sponsor—Banner Health Cardon Children’s Medical Center.

It’s full of ideas for BFG-related activities, like creating a menu (without humans) a giant might like, starting your own dream diary or considering ways best friends are sometimes similar yet different.

Guests can purchase Roald Dahl books to enjoy at home, learn about the dialect reflected in the BFG’s “punnery” and word play, and explore the world of dreams (including dreams in various cultures, dreams throughout history and the role of dreams in creativity).

I learned from one display that the tune for the Beatles’ hit “Yesterday” came to Paul McCartney in a dream. I had some fun spinning various combinations of nonsense words using side-by-side Rolodex gizmos. I even checked out the artwork of guests who invented new words and drew pictures to illustrate them.

The real master of new things is David Saar, Childsplay’s founder and artistic director. Saar directs this production, which is profoundly imbued with his own dreams and daring. It’s another not-to-be-missed adventure in the fine art of storytelling.

–Lynn

Note: The cast of “The Big Friendly Giant” also includes Andres Alcala, who shared the following when asked about his favorite giant or monster: “Andre the Giant is my favorite because he is so gentle.” Read your program closely when you see the show to learn which cast members favor the Jolly Green Giant, the Wild Things and other monsters that might be less familiar.

Coming up: A sneak peek at Childsplay’s 2010-2011 season, including an original Childsplay production called “The Imaginators” by playwright Dwayne Hartford—who shares that a particular character in the play was inspired by his own favorite monster ala Edward Gorey.