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November 2, 2011

Season Opener Is A Medley Of Roald Dahl Adaptations

By Dylan Roche

Do you know how to identify a real witch? If not, you may want to go see Children’s Theatre of Annapolis’ latest production, “A Tribute to Roald Dahl: The Witches,” which brings to life the story of a little boy who must outsmart a convention of witches. In addition to this adaptation, the audience is treating to staged versions of a few of the author’s shorter works. “The Witches” is directed by Emily Corey, assistant directed by Steve Magnum, and features a cast of over 30 local youth.

The production adapts several of Roald Dahl’s works, including the poem “Goldilocks” from “Revolting Rhymes,” short story “The Enormous Crocodile,” and novel, “The Witches,” interspersed with quotes from “The Minpins,” “Letters from Abroad,” and “The Twits.” The first act comprised the short works, with “The Witches” following intermission in the second act.

Corey takes advantage of the chance to be creative in her direction, adapting “Goldilocks” and “The Enormous Crocodile” in minimalist style. “Goldilocks” is interpreted as a shadow play with narration from a quartet of police officers; the silhouette visuals allow the audience to focus on Dahl’s trademark humor in his retelling of the classic folktale (which is sympathetic towards the Bear family, contending Goldilocks to be a trespassing criminal). Sydney Giddings, Grace Timko, Jessica Gentile, and Mary Buckingham all provide strong delivery in the narration.

In “The Enormous Crocodile,” the young actors create characters and scenes using their bodies as instrument—through movement and pantomime, they bring to life the animals and locations of Dahl’s African jungle, where the titular carnivore is set on hunting a human child for his next meal. Austin Dare and Mallory Snodgrass are lively and engaging as narrators, and Addison Hennick summons up impressive stage presence as the Enormous Crocodile. The pantomime is creative, especially in giving theatrical life to some of the more far-fetched fantastical elements of the story (such as the Crocodile’s eventual demise).

“The Witches” retells Dahl’s dark children’s novel about “real witches,” and their merciless leader, the Grand High Witch, who plot to turn the world’s children into mice. When an unnamed young protagonist stumbles upon their plan, and is made a victim of it himself, he and his salty grandmother must thwart the wicked scheme and stop the witches.

The story is well adapted, and the difficult effect of creating mice as characters is achieved through puppetry. Camille White gives crisp, well-spoken delivery of her lines as the little boy, who narrates the story. Maddie Poole is lively and animated as the Grandmother, giving fresh life to the feisty old broad. The two of them seem more excited than fearful when discussing real witches, which downplays the darkness of Dahl’s story, perhaps to make the adaptation more appealing to a young audience (“The Witches” is frequently among challenged/banned books due to its sinister theme and black humor).

Katie Garrity is excellent as Bruno, a greedy boy who is also transformed by the witches. Garrity has great comic timing, wonderful characterization, and is also impressive in her ability to effectively engage a puppet as a character.

Mariel White gives a sharp, well-crafted performance as the Grand High Witch. Her characterization is very reminiscent of Anjelica Huston in the 1990 film adaptation, but White manages to make the character her own, bringing vitality to the stage with each appearance. She is a delight to watch on stage.

“A Tribute to Roald Dahl: The Witches” runs through October 23. Children’s Theatre of Annapolis continues its season with “Grease” in January and “Alice in Wonderland” in April. Children’s Theatre of Annapolis also runs a number of workshops geared towards youth theatre education. Follow the troupe online at www.childrenstheatreofannapolis.org.

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