It's My Party
The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) at Albuquerque Little Theatre
While the KiMo Theatre may not be home to a childlike poltergeist named Bobby, the Albuquerque Little Theatre is certainly host to a big friendly giant. Actually, The Big Friendly Giant (or The BFG) from the pages of Roald Dahl's beloved children's novel, adapted for stage by David Wood.
The theatrical version of The BFG is presented as a dream about a play. Little orphan Sophie (Amanda Miner) is shuffled to bed, where she is roused by a mysterious trumpet and finds herself at her own birthday party—complete with friends, party favors and two loving parents.
Sophie's dream parents (played by Mark Van Martin and Wendy Kostora) inform the partygoers that the planned entertainment won’t be able to make it, so Sophie offers an alternative: Re-enact the story of The BFG, her favorite book, using a trunk full of costumes and her guests as supporting characters. Sophie's dad takes the role of The BFG, and Sophie uses a puppet to portray the orphan Sophie from the story (who she happens to share a name with) as The BFG carries her away to giant country—and an incredible adventure.
The BFG is part of Albuquerque Little Theatre's Family Theatre Series, and Director Becca Holmes made sure to keep the play in that context. The concept of a group of children playing dress up and using their imaginations to re-create Dahl's story is splendid—a smart adaptation by Wood. Holmes, the cast and the creative team of ALT's production homed in on this strength. The resulting moments are both comedic and visually stunning. One example is when the party guests use brightly colored fabric to form a moving landscape as The BFG and Sophie travel to giant country.
The puppet Sophie, carried and voiced by Miner, solves a looming question that weighs on the production: how to make The BFG a true giant. Miner does a bang-up job moving the Sophie doll across the stage, using the puppet’s arms and hands in sync with the dialogue. To further cast the illusion, Van Martin, as The BFG, interacts with the puppet as though she were a tiny "human bean," twirling her about and hiding her within his massive pocket to hide her from the man-eating giants: Childchewer, Fleshlumpeater, Bonecruncher, Gizzardgulper, Bloodbottler and Meatdripper.
The not-so-friendly giants wear elegantly constructed masks, each uniquely nightmarish. The masks were designed by Heidi Louise Cooper, who also constructed a "life-sized" BFG puppet that nearly reaches the light rigging for the final scenes. The bumbling giants are more absurd than scary—there’s not much chance your little ones will be frightened by their fake, contorted faces. Holmes and the cast erred on the side of silly—the play has the feel of a happy dream, the kind The BFG likes.
There are a number of others surprises within The BFG that are better kept secret. The cast gives fine performances all around, but a few stand out. Van Martin takes the word “friendly” to heart in his portrayal of the giant—he's playful and uproariously funny. Rarely are flatulence jokes so tastefully entertaining. Bradley Kenna, who tackles many roles, also stands out as a musician—playing the cello and bagpipes on multiple occasions. Kai-Erik Jensen, the smallest of the child-eating giants, has a talent for comic timing, especially in his role as the Head of the Air Force. And Miner, both as human Sophie and in controlling puppet Sophie, is always confident in her delivery.
The BFG is a highly successful and entertaining production. Perhaps the only improvements would be to turn down the music, as it sometimes overpowers the actors, and to restrain the enormous puppet BFG's arms from clobbering Miner's head. But that is a hazard of having a giant for a best friend.
Albuquerque Little Theatre (224 San Pasquale SW) presents The BFG , based on the novel by Roald Dahl and adapted for stage by David Wood, every Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Nov. 2. Call 242-4750 for tickets ($10) or details.