Big adventure, little heroes
Blue Room Young Company stages a fun-sized version of The Hobbit
In translating J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit to the big screen, director Peter Jackson stretched the more than 300-page novel into three films, which, combined, clock in at nearly seven hours. Though Jackson’s been accused of stretching the story to milk the fantasy classic for every last blockbuster buck, The Lord of the Rings prequel is still a thick story, making it a challenging choice of production for the Blue Room Theatre’s Young Company.
That said, when you peel away things like Tolkien’s predilection for the Elvish language and efforts to flesh out the history of his Middle Earth (begat-ing of Biblical proportions while describing even minor characters’ lineages), The Hobbit is essentially a straightforward fairy tale in which a little dude, a wizard and their dwarf buddies take a trek to rough up a dragon named Smaug and burgle his hoard of gold. By realizing this and breaking it down to its storybook basics, the Blue Room crew was able to make the fantasy classic more wieldy for young players—and audiences—during the play’s five-show run (April 23-25).
So, there are no bloodthirsty wargs in hot pursuit of the party, no climactic Battle of Five Armies, and a few changes to Tolkien’s canon that purists might prickle at (Who kills Smaug? And with what?!?), but what’s left is a fun abridgment with plenty of meat for the budding actors to sink their teeth into. The players also manage to put their own mark on the work by (thankfully) not trying to ape other adaptations, and focusing on the fun (and funny) parts of the story.
The first scene is an unexpected dinner party in the hole-in-the-ground home of Bilbo Baggins, the story’s titular Hobbit, played here with amazing ability by Dylan Dawson, who in real life is a little girl. Dawson perfectly captures both Baggins’ dextrous physicality and nervous nature. We also meet Gandalf (Zoe Karch), the wizard who helps assemble the adventuring party. Between them, the pair have the lion’s share of lines to remember and are central to much of the action, responsibilities they shouldered well. Also of special note is Kaleigh Joyce Graham, who added an eerie gothic touch to her portrayal of the unhinged, underground-dwelling Gollum.
Then, there’s the band of dwarves, who collectively make it obvious why playing The Hobbit with children works. The Blue Room dwarves are not the dour, taciturn creatures that Tolkien imagined, and instead resemble a cross between Snow White’s pals on a heavy sugar rush and the Keystone Cops of silent cinema. They’re slapstick as all get out, and much of their time was spent scurrying hither and yon in brightly colored clothing, ad-libbing one-liners and acting like borderline lunatics. In short, perfect roles for kids that play into the youths’ natural exuberance. As adorable as the dwarves were, they were ultimately out-cuted by a quartet of elves—Lilia Chavira, Conner Arellano, Luke Dawson and Ivy Sayre—who are about as fun to watch as one might imagine talking, bow-and-arrow wielding kittens would be.
Another way the young actors made the play their own was by adding a touch of mad-cap modernness. For example, the trolls who snatch Bilbo early on with the intention of cooking him are played here as a bunch of backwoods hillbillies, and when the dwarves are tossed in jail, one of them blows a woeful blues tune on a harmonica. Similar anachronistic elements, the actors’ youthful energy, and an overall none-too-serious approach made this version of The Hobbit an evening well spent.