Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Nov. 16, 2001
The Hobbit: Magical Mystery TourJacqueline McGee Performing Arts Center,
Austin High School
through November 17
Running Time: 1 hr,15 min
Sure things are hard to come by in Austin theatre, but this is one of them: If you go to see a Second Youth production, you're sure to see something magical. In this respect, the company's latest presentation, The Hobbit, doesn't disappoint. After the lights dim, David Nancarrow's resonant and reverent narration leads us as we watch a war played out in shadows projected on a sheer cloth stretched across the stage. Later, a Gollum, played by Aaron Johnson, drips and slides its way onto the stage and engages in another battle, this one of wits, with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins as he attempts to escape from Gollum's moist and echoey lair. Later still, a dragon named Smaug appears -- yes, an actual dragon. At first Smaug sleeps, but eventually Bilbo makes so much noise that Smaug wakes -- a dragon, a real dragon, that clicks its claws and tosses its head back and forth, stretches its neck up and around, works its jaws and sharp teeth, eyes glowing, seemingly on fire, threatening to crawl right into the now small cavern of the stage, putting to shame every dragon you've ever seen in any movie anywhere because those dragons were celluloid and this dragon is right here, close enough for you to reach out and stroke its scary, scaly skin.
I wish I could say the entire production was like what I've described (especially like Smaug, a puppet designed by Brian Gaston). Not that there aren't other things to enjoy here, not the least of which are Meredith Moseley's costumes, earthy and heavily layered for the mountain dwarfs, rich and blue for the humans of Laketown, and Jonathan Hiebert's masks, which greatly assist this group of young actors in establishing the older, fantastic characters of J.R.R. Tolkien's novel. J. Richard Smith's scenic designs also work smoothly and beautifully. Using a few well-placed carts and the drop-and-fly system at Austin High's Jacqueline McGee Performing Arts Center, Smith creates a hobbit's house, a forest, a mountain pass, and various subterranean caverns quickly, easily, and convincingly.
Smith also directs, and it is here that the production is least effective. Generally speaking, the staging doesn't work. Too often the actors don't seem to understand how to move in the proscenium space, and Smith doesn't seem to have helped them. In addition, many of the actors, most of them young and most likely lacking in experience, alter their voices in order to more believably become dwarfs or other creatures, but do not enunciate through their alterations. Thus, much of the dialogue is lost in the nasty acoustics of the auditorium. If it's not enunciation, then it's movement -- R. Michael Clinkscales' Bilbo moves so much and so often, it's difficult to concentrate on anything coming out of his mouth. Some of the acting is effective: Huck Huckaby approaches the wizardly Gandalf simply and is easily understood, as are Hilary Schurwanz's soldierly Thorin Oakenshield and Aaron Johnson's bowman Bard. But these are the exceptions. There's magic here, but the production falls short of something much more important -- enchantment.