‘The BFG’ at Imagination Stage

Imagination Stage presents The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant), based on the book by Roald Dahl, adapted for the stage by David Wood, and directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and Eric J. Van Wyk. Before you read on, let me just say this: I review shows quite often, but this is one of the best productions I have seen in a long time! Why? Read on.

The BFG (James Konicek) and Sophie (Megan Graves). Photo by Margot Schulman.
The BFG (James Konicek) and Sophie (Megan Graves). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Eric J. Van Wyk is one busy man– not only does he co-direct this production, but he is also the set, puppets, and projection designer! As most of the plot takes place at nighttime, the set has an overall soothing effect– what looks like bright stars framing the stage turn out to be lit-up “dream jars” upon closer inspection, and a projection screen set into an archway shows different settings throughout the show, either inside the cave of a giant or flying across the London skyline. Lighting Designer Jason Arnold uses cool purples and blues, and the hues are beautifully coupled with Sound Designer Christopher Baines’ tinkling chimes. Be careful not to let the relaxed setting lull you to sleep before the show, or you’ll miss the puppets!

Usually in a production of The BFG, an actor plays the giant whilst a marionette is used to portray Sophie, but Van Wyk decided to flip this notion, and the payoff is, well…GIANT. The puppets are truly masterful pieces. Larger than life (it can take up to four puppeteers at a time to control one puppet), the puppets also manage to have a delicate and fragile air about them, looking to be mainly made out of airy fabrics and gauze. They are a real sight to be seen, and watching the puppeteers work together to manipulate their movements is downright fascinating! Stagehands in black jumpsuits are also kept busy throughout the show, maneuvering a wide variety of props (fabrics, plastic cups, themselves, the list goes on…) to lend fantastic and creative effects.

It’s the middle of the night, and Sophie (Megan Graves) is tossing and turning at the lonesome orphanage where she sleeps. When she is startled by the BFG (James Konicek) standing outside her window, and downright shocked when the giant lifts her up and whisks her away to his home in Giant Country. Since Sophie has seen him, he reasons, she now has to stay with him lest she spread the secret of giants and he ends up caged in a zoo! Luckily for Sophie, the BFG is a friendly giant, and she soon finds herself happily at home with her new friend, gathering pleasant dreams together to bring to children, which is the BFG’s life mission. However, other giants are not like the BFG…they like to eat humans! Matthew Schleigh, Matthew McGee, and Jon Hudson Odom make up a bloodthirsty trio as Fleshlumpeater, Bonecruncher, and Gizzardgulper. When a plot to snack on Sophie’s fellow orphans is discovered, it is up to Sophie and the BFG to stop them! This is an important task, and they will need some powerful help, so who else to turn to but…the Queen of England!

If the plot sounds a little fantastical, it’s because it is. The plot is silly in the best possible way, and the performances are delivered with such hilarity that I probably missed a good portion of the show because I was laughing so hard! Keep your eye out for a riotous scene devoted to “whizzpopping” (I’ll not spoil the surprise, so let’s just say it’s rip-roaring fun!) Susan Lynskey does a dynamic job with her role as The Queen of England; with a pinched face and squinted eyes, she pokes some good-natured fun at the real-life Queen, from mimicking her famous cupped wave to walking around with a barking mop that she refers to as “Camilla.”

A nod goes to Costume Designer Jeffrey Stolz here as well; with her short curly coif, oversized glasses, and fur-lined robe, Lynskey is the Queen! Megan Graves is delightfully cheerful and funny as Sophie, and as far as James Konicek goes in his performance as the BFG, well, I’m not sure how he does it! Not only does he do the majority of the puppeteering for the BFG (if you look closely, you can see his face hovering somewhere around the BFG’s waistline), but his detailed vocal performance gives great life to this character. Truly, the whole ensemble here shines in their performances. I particularly enjoyed Maboud Ebrahimzadeh’s scene-stealing turn as the Queen of Sweden , and Austin Sargent scored huge laughs from a variety of smaller roles that he pumped full of personality.

So, will this unlikely team be able to help save the children of Britain? Or will they find themselves in one  giant mess?

– Sophie (L-Megan Graves) and the Queen of England (R-Susan Lynskey). Photo by Margot Schulman.
– Sophie (L-Megan Graves) and the Queen of England (R-Susan Lynskey). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Whenever  I come across a show this hilarious, clever, and vivacious, I wish our rating scale went higher than a five because I’d give it a 10! In fact, I am considering carving out some time to go and see it again! Imagination Stage’s production of The BFG is an absolute Must-See– don’t miss it!

Running Time: 90 minutes, without an intermission.

The BFG plays through August 10, 2014 at Imagination Stage– 4908 Auburn Avenue Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (301) 280-1660, or purchase them online.