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REVIEW: James and the Giant Peach at Cloverdale Performing Arts

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REVIEW: James and the Giant Peach
at Cloverdale Performing Arts

 

By Malena Eljumaily 

For those of you caught in the August doldrums- when parents have simply run out of ideas of things to do to amuse the kids- there’s hope on the horizon.  Cloverdale Performing Arts Center’s production of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach will surely delight the whole family. James is the lesser-know and -celebrated cousin to the bestselling, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

In 1961, when James and the Giant Peach was written, most books for children were full of fluffy bunnies and happy times. Dahl’s work was always a bit edgy, highly imaginative, if completely improbably, and fun, fun, fun.

Director Yave Guzman has rolled all those qualities into a big orange ball and let it roll.                       

The unfussy sets provided by Cloverdale High School’s art department set the stage for a production that will require imagination on the part of actors and audience alike.  As the play begins, we get a brief word from the Narrator (James Edington) of how James Trotter is sent to live with his two aunts after his parents are killed by a charging rhinoceros. The actual attack is a fast and furious scene produced with a wooden puppet rhino worked by members of the “Movement Chorus” who pop in and out of the action as seagulls, sharks, mythical monsters and even the White Cliffs of Dover.

L-R) Joe Dobbins (GRASSHOPPER), Corey Sceales (EARTHWORM), Landon Barry (JAMES), Mckenzie Pepper (LADYBUG)L-R) Joe Dobbins (GRASSHOPPER), Corey Sceales (EARTHWORM), Landon Barry (JAMES), Mckenzie Pepper (LADYBUG)

James is mistreated by his Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, both puppets operated and voiced by Ashlyn Delfino and Sasha Guleff, respectively, with hilarious results. All James really wants is to be happy and maybe to have a few friends. Nothing changes when a giant peach begins to grow in the yard of the “queer ramshackle house high on a hill” where his aunts sell tickets to see the peach and lock James away from the crowds to clean up later.

Landon Barry is an inspired choice to play James. He’s technically an adult, but his boyish good looks and sweet charm make it easy to believe he is a little boy with continued hopes and dreams despite how rotten his life has been. Everything changes for him when he discovers a way into the giant peach and the magical world that’s contained in its pit.

When the stage revolves, the old shack of a house is transformed into the interior of the peach, and the many garden bugs are revealed in clever, colorful costumes designed by Janet Rawls.  Her costumes suggest each character with the help of make up from Alexandra Kyriakos, with just the right amount of detail. All the insects - a grasshopper, centipede, spider, glow-worm, earthworm and ladybug are well-cast and believable. Okay, the only true insects in the bunch are the ladybug and grasshopper, but you get the idea. Earthworm (Corey Sceales) and Centipede (Robert A. Rodriguez) have the most to say, mostly because they can’t seem to get along - at one point even arguing over whether Earthworm glides or slithers. 

Lots of adventures lay ahead for James and his newfound “insect” friends once the peach is released from the tree and begins rolling down the hill and into the sea.  It’s a strangely macabre sort of road trip with plenty of opportunity for James to grow as he saves them from one impossible dilemma after another. 

The play is about an hour long with no intermission, but don’t worry about young ones squirming in their seats. This production is so whimsical and delightful, the time flies by. Live theater is a wonderful experience that simply cannot be reproduced on a tablet or cellphone. 

James and the Giant Peach promises to be, “A magical wild ride to delight young and old” and it more than lives up to that promise.

Running August 7, 8, 14, 15 at 7:30pm, August 9 and 16 at 2pm. 

Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

209 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale

707-894-2214


Malena Eljumaily is a playwright and avid knitter.  She is on the board of the Northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime and the Redwood Writers branch of the California Writers Club. She lives in Santa Rosa.

PHOTOS by volunteer photographer, John Gobeille