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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, July 19, 2024


You need not have read J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy of good against evil, "The Hobbit," to follow the play of the same name that opens Thursday evening at Pistarckle Theater for a four-performance run.
Visiting director Laura Lea Oliver notes that the play version, written by Patricia Gray in 1967, is an adaptation of Tolkien's work – which was first published in 1937, although it didn't take young adult America by storm until the 1960s. And in that sense, the play is different in many ways from the book.
The play is still the story of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit – that is to say, a smaller-than-dwarf dweller of Middle-Earth in a peaceable place called The Shire – who is destined for heroism against his better judgment. At the behest of the wandering wizard Gandalf, Bilbo reluctantly takes on a quest on behalf of a band of homeless dwarfs (or dwarves, as the British Tolkien has them) that leads him to do battle with evil orcs, savage wolves, giant spiders and the daunting dragon Smaug. Abetting Bilbo is the One Ring of Power, acquired by means unknown from the slimy, hissing dark-dweller Gollum, which makes its wearer invisible.
Gray's adaptation was authorized by Tolkien, Oliver said, "and some of the dialogue is pulled right from the book. Gollum is very, very close." On the other hand, she said, the Elfin Queen is "very different – in the play she and the dwarfs are feuding, whereas in the book they are more allied."
While literary critics have found metaphors for the real world in Tolkien's work and his trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" which continued the saga, the tale of Bilbo Baggins and his friends and enemies and fantastic adventures makes for good reading and visualization in and of itself. Two indelible impressions this writer has from reading "The Hobbit"more than two decades ago are of the largely humanoid hobbits having curly hair on their toes, and Gollum repeatedly uttering in gutteral gulps the worrisome expression that got him his name – gollum, gollum, gollum. Will these be in evidence at the Pistarckle production? That remains to be seen.
The cast of 14 – a dozen girls and two boys, ages 7 to just-turned-13, includes Torii Kappelman as Bilbo, Alani Gregory as Gandalf, Sander Randall as the dwarf leader Thorin, and Danielle Comissiong as the Queen of the Elves. Gollum is being played by Mandi Moss, a friend of Oliver's who just graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando after completing a nine-month internship with the Orlando Shakespeare Festival.
Also in the cast are Pauline Creque, Rene deJongh, Arielle Ebenholtz, Maxine Emerich, Fianna Fluess, Krystal Hunt, Sasha Levons, Sally Moore and Jeremy Persade.
For Oliver, also an Orlando resident and also a UCF graduate, this Pistarckle summer camp production is a return booking. She also directed the company's first children's camp production, Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a year ago. That came about, Oliver said, because her mother lives on St. Thomas, and while visiting her here she became acquainted with Pistarckle producer and artistic director Nikki Emerich.
The dynamics of this year's group are very different from those last year, Oliver said: "Last year, we had more 12-year-olds. This time most are 10 and 11, and that's a tough age for them – and for the director to direct them."
Marty Merrick and Walt Julio, a pair of thespians/theater technicians on loan from St. Croix's venerable Caribbean Community Theater, are in charge of the lighting design, stage managing and sound and light operations for "The Hobbit." On loan, Emerich explained, in the sense that "they came over in Marty's sailboat for the weekend." Moss took over as chief costume-mistress after Jeanne Webb needed to take a health-care break. Also collaborating in the production was Oliver's boyfriend, who "designed a mini-disc of music and sound effects with cues," she explained.
Two days before "The Hobbit" opens to a real, live audience, the young cast members acknowledge at the end of rehearsal that it's been "bad." "We didn't know our lines," several admit. "We didn't know our cues," others add. "We were talking backstage. I admit that I did," another says.
Are two more days of rehearsal going to be enough to get them into shape? Oliver, who directs mainly adults in Orlando theater productions and is most involved in The Cerulean Group, a drama company formed about a year ago largely by UCF alumni, appears unworried. "Study tonight, and see you all tomorrow," she says in dismissal. This is, after all, show biz.
Pistarckle Theater's recently renovated, air-conditioned facility is located in Tillett Gardens. "The Hobbit" opens Thursday with an 8 p.m. performance for which admission is "pay as you can." For the remaining three shows – Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. – tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for children 12 and younger. Tickets may be reserved or purchased by credit card by calling 775-7877. They will also be available at the door.

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