‘The Hobbit’ at Encore Stage and Studio by Julia L. Exline

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Encore Stage and Studio presents J.R.R. Tolkien’s timeless adventure The Hobbit, a tale about an ordinary hobbit who embarks on an extraordinary adventure…and discovers an unexpected heroic side of himself in the process. Director Susan Alison Keady receives solid performances from a cast made up of children and young adults for this coming-of-age story. As Encore Stage and Studio’s goal is to provide live entertainment for kids, by kids, this production proves to be a fine choice.

Sarah Fahrenkrug (Bilbo Baggins) and Maxwell Carpenter (Gandalf). Photo by Larry McClemons.

Technical Director Jimmy Keady provides multiple sets for this show, including a moss-covered cottage with a circular door for Bilbo’s home in the Shire, as well as its comfortable interior. Once on his adventure, the sets include campsites, forests, dungeons, and finally a dragon’s lair littered with treasure. The children adapt well to the ever-changing settings, including masterfully ignoring a fallen set piece and carrying on as if nothing had happened instead of drawing attention to the mishap. Lighting Designer Gary Hauptman uses red lighting to illuminate the dragon’s ominous lair, as well as pink and yellow spotlights for a sunrise effect, and Sound Designer Susan Alison Keady uses wooden flutes to create a mood, and effects such as slamming doors and smashing china to help move the plot along. Debra Leonard completes the illusion with costumes; dressing Bilbo in simple but comfortable clothes, his gang of dwarves in colorful hoods and sweeping beards, and Gandolph in elaborate robes, a pointed hat, and carrying a large staff. Each creature has a quality that sets them apart and enhances their character, such as the gigglish elves who sport intricate braids and glittery makeup, or the trolls that are so hairy you cannot make out their faces.

Bilbo Baggins, a homely hobbit (a talented Sarah Fahrenkrug), finds his comfortable life turned upside down when Gandolf the Wizard (Maxwell Carpenter) cleverly cons him into agreeing to accompany a band of dwarves on a quest to slay a dragon who stole their people’s gold. Each dwarf has a unique personality, the most stand-outs being the stubborn Thorin (Reiss Gidner) and the always-hungry Bombur (a very funny Sean Willner). Given the responsibility as the group “thief,” Bilbo’s first task is to steal food for the hungry group…from a family of thunderous trolls!

Sarah Fahrenkrug (Bilbo Baggins) and Reiss Gidner (Thorin). Photo by Larry McClemons.

The adventure only gets more daunting and dangerous for Bilbo and his gang, including a chaotic fight with a gang of golbins (choreographed by Kristen Pilgrim), an attack from wood elves, and finally the encounter with the fearsome dragon, Smaug (Roxanne Fisher, Colin Meek, and James Randall, who all work together to create a very large, formidable beast. My personal favorite part of the production was Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum, played by Thomas Schindler. Schindler captivates the audience with his crude, animalistic movements and hacking speech, pausing every few sentences to hiss with frustration like an angry cat. This character is a complex and haunting one, and the fact that such a young actor can do a fine job with it was a delight to experience. Through all their magical run-ins with various creatures, Bilbo discovers bravery within himself that he did not know was there…but how far does it reach? Can an ordinary hobbit face a magical dragon and live to tell about it?

Taking your children to the theater is a wonderful thing, and the opportunity is especially nice and inspiring when the cast is made up of children in their own age group — their peers. This is an adventurous coming-of-age tale that every child should be exposed to in some way, and why not with Encore Stage and Studio’s production of The Hobbit?

I highly recommend The Hobbit for an evening of affordable family fun!

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Hobbit runs through November 4, 2012 at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre –125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA.  For tickets, call (703) 548-1154 or order them online.