A juicy tale
James and the Giant Peach
Long before a wizard killed Harry Potter’s parents, leaving him with a wicked aunt and uncle, James Trotter’s parents were killed by a stampeding rhinoceros, leaving James stranded with his horrible aunts, Spiker and Sponge, in a ramshackle house on a hill in England. And though you can view both boys’ stories this weekend, it’s Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach that you can see live—slightly more affordably than Harry’s film, I might add—as performed by TheatreWorks of Northern Nevada’s Youth Company.
James, celebrating its 50th birthday this year, was always a special favorite of mine. I have wonderful memories of my mother reading it to me before bed. I entered TWNN’s opening performance with a mixture of childhood wonderment, nostalgia and, I’ll admit, trepidation (as in, “Please, keep the story the way I remember it, and don’t mess it up!”). I’m pleased to report that much of Dahl’s marvelous characterizations and lovely, unusual verses are intact. After all, only Dahl, author of the Willy Wonka classics, could write such lines as Aunt Sponge’s “I look and smell, I do declare, as lovely as a rose. Just feast your eyes upon my face, observe my shapely nose. Behold my heavenly silky locks, and if I take off both my socks, you’ll see my dainty toes.”
As the story goes, the, ahem, generously proportioned Sponge (Nasya Mancini) and her spiky sister, Spiker (Lily Marenghi), taunt and abuse poor James (Logan Thomason), forcing him to cook them dinner, clean the house and sleep on the floor. His salvation comes when he crosses paths with a crazy old man and a bag of enchanted crocodile tongues promising “marvelous things.” In his excitement, James trips, spilling the contents of the bag at the base of a long-dormant tree. Miraculously, the tree bears fruit—the largest peach James or his aunts have ever seen. Inside live several man-sized insects that befriend James, and it’s with them, inside the peach, that he makes his escape.
Clearly, staging for this story is challenging. TWNN has pulled out all the stops here; the production is gorgeous, from the spectacularly colorful costumes—kudos to costume designer Cathy Averett—to the glowing crocodile tongues and the giant peach. The aforementioned Sponge and Spiker are outfitted in true-to-the-book, outlandishly colorful costumes. And the bugs! It’s as if the illustrations I remember from the book had jumped onto the stage. There’s Miss Spider (Delaina Marenghi) and her bright, red eyes; the blind, miserable Earthworm (Wesley Matthews); a glittering Old Green Grasshopper (Jasper Coverdale); the wise-cracking Centipede (Isaac Hickox-Young) and his 42 feet; and the rotund, spotted Ladybird (Suzanne O’Grady).
I was impressed with young Thomason’s portrayal of James. He had great enthusiasm, vocal range and even a decent British accent. Mancini’s Sponge was deliciously grotesque, and I loved Marenghi’s Miss Spider, constantly gyrating her eight legs and enthusiastically belting her lines. Special attention must be paid to Claire Evans, the talented composer and violinist whose impressive work accompanies the entire production.
Of course, it’s a kids’ show, so expect the occasional flubbed line, volunteer stagehands—who, when I saw the show, inexplicably wore very brightly colored, distracting clothing—and minimal awkwardness.
So take your kids to James and the Giant Peach—share a story that will stick with them, or just relive one that likely stuck with you.