By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
As the title indicates, Burks plays an exception to the typical homicidal carnivores whose footsteps make the land tremor in their wake. He's a big kid who prefers to hang around inside his cave and collect dreams in glass jars, which he screens for nightmares and, after he's assured of their soothing or hilarious qualities, redistributes them to children. By the second act, weary of having to hide Sophie from the other giants and wanting (finally) to stop the mayhem, she and The BFG enlist the aid of the Queen of England (Sue Birch) to use her military forces to corral the rampaging monsters.
The theatrical "special effect" of choice in The BFG: Big Friendly Giant is puppetry, and costumer-designer Mary McClung, a University of Dallas professor who has created for Children's Television Workshop, has whipped up a variety of puppets in scale and kind to accommodate the difference in size between Sophie and the giants. They range from a foot-tall rod puppet version of Sophie designed to look like actress Kelly Abbott, to an imposing upper body that Burks dons like a headdress to interact with Abbott herself. By my unscientific estimation, this unwieldy, goggle-eyed piece had to make Burks at least 10 feet tall. Cleverly, it was also fashioned to resemble the actor who wore it, and impressive as it is in appearance, the show drags a bit as Burks maneuvers it with some apparent difficulty. Dahl's wit works at too slashing a pace to suddenly slow down for props, however elaborate they are.
Director Olaisen wasn't able to compensate for the sluggish quality of the puppet costumes and maintain the crisp rhythm he established once an unnecessary prologue set at Sophie's birthday party is over and the actual story gets under way. The cast members who don the Maurice Sendak-ish man-eating giant headdresses, significantly smaller and more colorful than The BFG, nonetheless find themselves similarly hobbled in their onstage movements. My adult tastes preferred Birch's long-faced Queen, who reacts with utterly reserved English stoicism to even the most fantastic revelations and refers to the hungry monsters as "colleagues" of The BFG.
The BFG: Big Friendly Giant runs through June 24 at El Centro College Theater, 801 N. Main St. Call (214) 978-0110.
And yet, Dallas Children's Theater is not in the business of chasing the fancies of a childless 32-year-old man. So how did the kids react at the Saturday matinee I attended? School hasn't been out very long, and maybe many members of the junior-set could think of a better way to spend a sunny afternoon, but mostly they seemed underwhelmed, restless. I've been to productions at DCT and Le Theatre du Marionette where the performers knew immediately that they'd impressed the children with something--gasps and running commentary on the action despite parental attempts to hush it are usually signs of a bull's-eye. There was very little of either in The BFG: Big Friendly Giant, even when the flesh-eating giants turn and pretend to advance, strobe lights flickering, on the audience. The tykes were nonplussed, which leads me to paraphrase an old theatrical bromide--dying is easy; trying to manipulate a reaction out of a kid is hard.