GLENS FALLS, NY – ‘The Hobbit’ is one of the best-known titles in children’s literature. It makes you wonder why such a popular title is not a staple of regional theatre.
The Adirondack Theater Company production shows why. It’s a brute of a work to produce and perform. It’s a typical quest game, full of adventures, lots of characters and strange exotic locations. Moreover, even an imaginative production like this has limited adult appeal.
The premise of JRR Tolkien’s story is that the dwarves of Middle-earth want to regain their former place of power and respect in the world of Middle-earth. This means reclaiming their wealth of gold and jewels protected by a fierce dragon on Lonely Mountain.
To do this, the party must defeat enemies such as goblins, trolls, wolves, giant spiders, and evil elves. And, of course, at the end of their journey, a dragon must be slain. Once victory is achieved, they face the greatest challenge. Not giving in to ego and the love of power and learning to be compassionate and righteous leaders.
Thanks to Joe Isenberg’s incredibly imaginative and intelligent direction, the play moves from challenge to challenge not just fluidly, but with purpose. The book’s adapter, Greg Banks, is fairly faithful to the book, but it’s a demanding job for the performers and designers.
Big credit must go to set designer Sarah Beth Hall who, instead of a forest, creates an industrial black cabinet that sets the perfect ominous tone for the proceedings. Isenberg, with the use of two moving platforms, transforms the scene into many places. Sound designer Tosin Olufolabi keeps the tension high and lighting designer Siobhan Sleath adds to the changing moods of the room.
All of this would have been for naught if it weren’t for five energetic actors who change shape, mood and personality throughout the play. With the exception of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit who becomes the play’s reluctant hero, the other four embody multiple characters. Additionally, there are eight other dwarves we are told are present, but never see.
Blake Segal is excellent as the charming and complacent homebody Bilbo who comes to thrive on adventure. Rio Allen plays several distinctive characters but really shines as the wizard Gandalf. Ryan Pater is pompous but not hateful as Thorin, King of the Dwarfs. In multiple roles, Meagan Kimberly Smith and Marshall Evan McGuire bring personality, energy and enthusiasm to this fast-paced tale.
Although a flawless and compelling production, I felt a sense of loss not having an older child or teenager with me. Adults will certainly appreciate the moral of the story which says that mankind must live together in peace. They too will be impressed by the theatrical techniques of the production, but there’s no denying that this is children’s theatre. As an adult, I need more engaging material to hold my attention for two hours.
That said, I hope ATF’s new artistic director and producer, Miriam Weisfeld — who comes from the Minneapolis Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis — finds a way to continue including plays like “The Hobbit” in future seasons. . There are few things more enjoyable than sharing an adventure with a child.
The Hobbit continues at the Adirondack Theater Festival in Glens Falls until July 17. For tickets and showtime information, call (518) 480-4878 or visit atfestival.org