PLAY REVIEW: Flat River Community Players take on ‘The Hobbit’

Flat River Community Players actors, back from left, Sean Wahlfeldt, Steve Perry, Andy Smith, Richard Raphael, Jeremiah Souza and Charles Moon, along with Patrick Fuller (Blibo) in front, perform a scene from “The Hobbit.” — Courtesy photo

Play Review | By Lynne Welder 

Many of us have read some version of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” or seen the film. Now we have a chance to see a live play adaptation this beloved story on stage at the Greenville Area Community Center.

The original story of Bilbo Baggins’ quest, written in 1937, contained more than 300 pages. Director Steve King chose a shortened version for the Flat River Community Players; one that will keep audience attention through the perilous and sometimes humorous journey.

King has wanted to direct the play for a long time. “It was the first show I was in in high school,” he says. “I played Gollum.”

When King chose Ric Davenport to play slimy, creepy Gollum, he told Davenport that he would probably be harder on him than others because he had played the part. His choice was right on target. Davenport, as King says, “loses himself in the part.” Wearing only rags for short pants, Gollum creeps along the ground, perches on a rock and hops around the stage in his wretched, hungry misery. His face, hair and his voice express the poor creature’s hopeless state. He explains to Bilbo when they meet that he talks to Precious, who is himself, because he is lonely and it is good to have someone to talk to.

Watch for the scene in which Gollum and Bilbo use riddles to either free Bilbo from Gollum’s cave or let Gollum enjoy Bilbo for a meal.

Scott Wahlfeldt and Patrick Fuller act out a scene from “The Hobbit.” — Courtesy photo

The story opens with Bilbo, played by Patrick Fuller, sitting contentedly on the edge of the stage, smoking his long pipe. Fuller captures the hobbit’s simple innocence before his peaceful life is shattered by the arrival of the 13 dwarves. As Bilbo is pushed way beyond his comfort zone by the demands of the quest to recapture the dwarves stolen treasure, Fuller, who at first shakes and cowers at the thought, stands straighter and speaks with more confidence. Toward the end of the journey, Thorin, leader of the dwarves, played by Sean Wahlfeldt, tells Bilbo, “You have grown in stature.”

Bilbo shows as well as tells, that his courage is winning out over his fear. For instance, when he finds himself alone in the cave with goblins not far off, he talks himself out of his fear. He says that actually, he lives underground too and with some nice furniture and pictures on the wall, it would be like his humble home.  It isn’t long before you come to love this honest peace-loving hobbit.

Gandolf, the great tall wizard, is played by Scott Wahlfeldt. He is perfectly cast, with his strong, comforting voice and wise counsel. His height makes a great contrast to the short hobbit. It is partly his confidence in Bilbo that helps him grow into the brave hobbit that would make his ancestors proud. “There is more to him than even he knows,” Gandolf calmly tells the dwarves.

Watching Bilbo grow strong made me think how important it is to have someone believe in each of us as we grow.  Gandolf wears his wizard hat so naturally and his gray, flowing robes are a perfect fit for his character. In fact, it is the costumes that really pull the story together.

Director King says that Jessie Gilbertson, who is in charge of costumes for this production, did an amazing job. Although the sets are quite minimal, the costumes bring you into Middle Earth, using rich earthy tones. To dress the 13 rugged dwarves with heavy, fur-lined cloaks and boots, hats and weapons had to have been a challenge. King said that he didn’t want to use fake long beards, like dwarves are supposed to have. He had the men grow what they could and let the costumes do the rest. It works.

“Once they were in costume,” King says, “the actors took off in their characters. Everyone has dived in.”

I especially liked the dwarf called Dwalin played by Richard Raphael. Dressed all in black, he carries a huge battleaxe and speaks with an interesting brogue.

So how do you dress three trolls? Carefully, I suppose. Their costumes are hard to describe. Tattered rags cover their bodies, but their hair, feet and faces set the mood too. Larry Moss plays Bert, the oldest and by far ugliest troll. He is disgustingly funny and scary as he eats his meat, spitting out what he doesn’t like. When the trolls attempt to stuff Bilbo into their cooking pot, the messy scene just gets crazier.

Sound, as well as costumes, plays a key role in the unfolding journey of the dwarves and hobbit. Wind howls, water drips in dark caves and thunder rolls as they near the dragon’s hiding place. Long before Smaug, the dragon, appears, you hear his loud, menacing snoring as he guards his stolen treasure. Christian Sowers and Josh Randall bring Smaug to life. Larry Moss is his voice. I won’t say what happens to Smaug, but it is very dramatic to say the least.

After being captured by elves and their stern and beautiful queen, played by Melanie Tompsett, a river is key in the travelers’ escape plan. You don’t see the river, but it becomes real as you hear the rushing water.

The music chosen for before the show and during intermission reminds one of dark ancient folk songs that come from the rugged, rural countryside — like Middle Earth.

The play runs about two hours and will be performed for elementary students next Wednesday. It seems long at times, but the dangerous, arduous quest was much longer in the original. It may be too much for small children, although there was a little boy at rehearsal who was so good as he sat through it all. Of course he had a few snacks to help him along. So be prepared and you will enjoy this retelling of a classic tale.

If you go …

What: The Flat River Community Players production of “The Hobbit”

Where: Greenville Area Community Center

When: Nov. 1-3 and 8-9. Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m., Sunday performances at 2 p.m.

Tickets: $13 for adults, $11 for seniors 60 or older, and $11 for students 18 and under.

Tickets may be purchased online at flatriver.showclix.com/, or by calling 1-888-71-TICKETS. You can also purchase your tickets through the FRCP’s Facebook page. Just click on the “Get Tickets” link. As always, tickets can be purchased at the door, the night of the performance. Purchasing tickets before the show will allow you to pick your seat, general admission at the door.

 Cast: Bilbo Baggins, Patrick Fuller; Gandolf, Scott Wahlfeldt; Dwalin, Richard Raphael; Balin, Jeremiah Souza; Kili, Tyler DeGood; Fili, Skye Hayes; Dori, Skip Schuster; Bifur, Steve Perry; Nori, Andy Smith; Oin, Christopher Griner; Ori, Charles Moon; Bofur, Matt Sanborn; Bombur, Chris Carroll; Thorin, Sean Wahlfeldt; Grocery Girl/Goblin, Heidi Raih; Tom, Cory Boomgaard; Essie, Jill Block; Bert, Larry Moss; The Great Goblin, Cory Boomgaard; Gollum, Ric Davenport; The Elven Queen, Melanie Tompsett; Attendant Elf, Kay Roy; Elf, Mayzie Butema; Elf, Loren Moss; Elf, Shelby Stowe; Elf, Whitney Codling; Elf, Ashton Codling; Smaug, Larry Moss; Smaug Puppeteers, Christian Sowers and Josh Randall

 Crew: Director, Steve King; Stage Manager, Joe Codling; Stage Crew, Marissa Wood, Brittany Bassett, Christian Sowers, Josh Randall; Lights/Sound, Matt Lofts and Steve King

 Review by Lynne Welder reviews plays for The Flat River Community Players.

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