Middle Earth, downtown Reno

Get out of your comfy hole and enter Brüka’s version of Bilbo’s adventures

Jeremiah Nelson plays Thorin in Brüka’s <i>The Hobbit</i>.

Jeremiah Nelson plays Thorin in Brüka’s The Hobbit.

Rated 4.0

Seems hardly fair that you could be sitting smoking your pipe peacefully in your comfortable hole in the ground, when the world comes noisily knocking at your door. You’re polite and a good host, of course, but not exactly an adventurer. Chosen? Who, me? How can a little furry-footed creature, with a hankering for regular mealtimes, change the course of history in Middle Earth?

That’s why when Gandalf the wizard first comes to recruit Bilbo Baggins the hobbit, Bilbo will have none of it. Adventures “make you late for dinner,” Bilbo says. “We don’t want adventures here.”

Stephanie Richardson plays one feisty, funny, bright Bilbo in Brüka’s The Hobbit, directed by Michael Grimm. The play, running through July as part of Artown, is a version of the J.R.R. Tolkien book that’s been adapted for live theater.

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is the precursor to the Lord of the Rings fantasy trilogy. In Brüka’s version, Bilbo, Gandalf (John Rutski) and a band of dwarves led by Thorin (Jeremiah Nelson) seek to recover stolen treasure. They end up being nabbed by trolls and captured by goblins. They escape because good—even when watered down by greed or a lack of camaraderie—always triumphs in Middle Earth. Their final challenge is to defeat Smaug the dragon and recover the gold guarded by the scary fire-breathing creation (voiced by Mike Maupin).

At the start, Bilbo doesn’t like the sound of the plan, not even when Gandalf is talking up the hobbit’s dragon-like ferocity, “in a pinch,” to the dubious dwarves.

“I’ve never seen a dragon in a pinch,” Bilbo says nervously. “But I’m pretty sure I’m not as fierce as one.”

Did I mention that Richardson is delightful as Bilbo? I found myself wondering how many times she’d been to see The Fellowship of the Rings.

Defeating the dragon and changing from a mild-mannered homebody to a fierce, blade-wielding warrior (sort of) aren’t as important in terms of future plot as is Bilbo’s finding of a nice little ring in the cave of dark, slimy and exceptionally limber Gollum (Jason Nash). Bilbo and Gollum’s classic moment, a battle of riddles, turns out to be a memorable highlight, at least in part because of Gollum’s eerie-eyed mask and a black/green body suit that caught the light as he crouched and slithered along the stage.

The play seems perfectly suited for kids. Not too scary. Not too long. Never boring. Tolkien purists may feel ripped off by a long synopsis delivered by Gandalf that covers a huge latter portion of the narrative (including Bilbo’s barrel-riding escape down the river) and then jumps back into the action at Smaug’s place. But given that the play lasts two hours, including a 15-minute intermission, and that the auditorium isn’t air-conditioned, the abridged version was welcome.

Set design includes a lovely artful forest that caused some “oohs” from the audience when the curtain first opened. Cool costuming accouterments include lightweight swords and Bilbo’s weapon Sting (which glows ominously when goblins are near) handcrafted by local swordsmith and costume creator Robert Harbin, who also helped choreograph the fight scenes.

Best of all, the play reminds kids (even 37-year-old ones) that one uncompromising hobbit who says things like, "I’ll try my best, Mr. Elrond" to the elf leader, then "Oh my!" to the audience, can change himself and all of Middle Earth. Idealistic? Yeah. That’s why we keep going back to Tolkien for more.