This is No. 56 on the banned books list of 1990-2000?
Not as presented at the Sotille over this past week by KidStage, Charleston Stage's theater program for children. Obviously sanitized and picked clean of anything offensive or frightening, the tale is presented in a cutesy package suitable for young children.
This is an acceptable tack to take, but it does remove some of the magic that makes this story a popular children's tale. It also brings into question the $16.50 cost of a ticket for a short performance where the intended audience is small children.
This was definitely not like movie director Tim Burton's adaptation of Peach. Burton, known for his creepy yet still somehow child-like movies (Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Nightmare Before Christmas) told the tale of James the way author Roald Dahl originally wrote the story. The aunts were sadistic, the man-sized insects scary, and James was subject to peril and distress.
This version, adapted to the stage by David Wood and interpreted by director Mary-Beth Clark, comes across as cutesy and humorous, but definitely designed for much younger children using kinder and gentler visuals. Told in a scant 55 minutes, and skipping at least one major scene from Dahl's book, Stage's Peach misses an opportunity to present a story as an honest interpretation of the original.
Missing also from this production were the normal upscale (read: expensive) sets and costumes one expects from Charleston Stage. Seen by over 2,000 schoolchildren in the past week (which might account for its safe presentation as a variety of ages would be attending), the show was made available to the public for just two nights (Jan. 11-12) — which was probably the right number of offerings. It has the feel of a school production, a very well-directed, well-rehearsed, and well-presented production, but a school show nonetheless.
All five of the Stage's Resident Actors made an appearance, and while it may seem like a penance, they brought the professionalism expected of them.
Charlie Retzlaff is quite good in the role of Grasshopper. Part narrator and part wise grandfather figure, he is engagingly warm and plays a mean harpsichord. Patrick Tierney is suitably dour as the blind Earthworm, even though he is wearing an articulated brown body sock the entire evening. In addition, Sam Weber brings his abundant energy to the character of Centipede, leaping about the stage in such a hyperactive manner that it seems he might have forgotten to take his Ritalin before beginning the show.
There are nine children on stage in supporting roles. Their current acting skills make the whole show feel more like a graduation presentation than a full fledged Charleston Stage production.
In a way it is. This is what they spend each Monday during the school year learning to do. They are not bad, but it is a striking contrast between their current acting abilities and that of the adults in the roles of the insects. The exception to this is Timothy Shaw in the role of James, an eighth grader specializing in theater at the Charleston County School of the Arts. His performance is another example of the level of training received by students at that institution. He maintains a decent English accent throughout the show and really manages to come across as James, not just some boy playing James, which is a talent many of the adult actors in the region are still struggling to master.
Once again the sound system at a Charleston Stage show was hit-and-miss throughout the performance. Either producing static or fading out, this is a recurring problem that needs to be fixed soon. Whether the fault of the theater's sound system, the sound technicians, or the microphone gear used, it has been a distraction at every Stage show this season.
While the price of a ticket is $20 less than a typical Stage production, a more suitable price of under $10 might make the show's flaws more acceptable. This was an engaging performance, cute and humorous, but not the quality level a family of four would expect when a trip to the movies would be cheaper.