James and the Giant Peach
- By gentleguide
- On Wed 01 jan 2020
The stories of Roald Dahl have delighted brave children and their loving families for over half a century, and many of those stories have been made into stage plays and musicals. In addition to DM Playhouse productions of Willy Wonka and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang presented a few years ago, and the upcoming Matilda this summer, the Kate Goldman theatre now presents the non-musical version of Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, opening this Friday.
Told with whimsical style and just a bit of dark comedy, James and the Giant Peach concerns the journeys of young James Trotter (played by Carson Klein). After the unfortunate demise of his parents, James must live with his Aunt Sponge (Kristina Linnane) and Aunt Spiker (Kerrie Lee), who are horrible caretakers. Through a series of somewhat magical encounters, he meets a number of friendly insects inside a Giant Peach, who accompany him on adventures through land, sea, and air. James discovers his own strengths, and thanks to his friends finds a world far beyond what he ever knew.
“James and the Giant Peach is a tale of adventure, courage, and friendship,” says Lee. “Like so many protagonists in children's stories, James is an orphan with a lonely and miserable life who embarks upon a wild adventure with a new group of friends who becomes his new family. The orphan adventure is recurring theme in children's stories (Charlie Bucket, Dorothy Gale, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter) that I think has helped James and the Giant Peach stand the test of time. While I had seen Disney's 1996 version of the movie when it was first released, I had never read the book until I was preparing for auditions. David Wood's adaptation of the story stays true to the essence of Roald Dahl's book, while paring it down to a more simplified version which, I think, makes it more accessible to younger audience members.”
Directed by DM Playhouse Scenic Designer Nicholas Amundson, this fanciful excursion is filled with inventive costuming and colorful scenery sure to make every child (and their parents) delight with wonder. With a bit of a nod to the elaborate presentations of Cirque du Soleil, Lee loves seeing it come to life onstage. “Nick's ingenuity is full on display in this show! He employs simple objects that a child might use to transform a small corner of Central Park into the fantastical tale that James and his friends recount. Children become the peach tree and a ship. Puppets are combined with live-action in some scenes. The antagonists (Spiker and Sponge) reappear as different antagonists throughout the show. Glow paint and special lighting is used to recreate the depths of the ocean. And the reveal of the giant peach is achieved with an artistry I think rivals Cirque.”
As an author, Dahl was known both for his children’s works and also for adult tales of mystery and suspense. He never shied away from incorporating hints of darkness into his stories, no matter what age they were intended for. But in works such as James and the Giant Peach, he is careful to make sure that those situations are treated appropriately. “We handle the darker moments in this show with great care,” notes Lee. “In fact, the audience never witnesses a human/actor face death. The death of James' parents is very brief, and we use puppets to stand-in for the actors. The death of his aunts is neither seen nor talked about. We've left it so their deaths could be implied, or they could have simply run away when the peach rolls toward them. Even the characters in the underwater rescue scene are represented through puppetry, so we never see the human/actor in danger. The fantastical elements in each of these three scenes are breathtaking and a wonderful diversion from what could otherwise be potentially frightening moments for younger audience members.”
Ultimately, James and the Giant Peach can be seen as a great parallel to the lives of many, just taken to a fantastical level. Lee has walked part of that road herself. “My life journey has been a great ever-changing adventure, much like the path of the giant peach. I can separate ‘insect friends’ and ‘evil Aunts’ very simply into people who encourage me to pursue my dreams and people who turn up their noses at those pursuits. My number one ‘insect friend’ is my husband Rob who never hesitates to tell me to go chase my latest wild adventure. I once told him I wanted to move to Ireland and live in a yurt and raise chickens. With his encouragement, I traveled to Ireland alone and spent a summer living with various families to study organic farming (which helped get that whole ‘move to Ireland and live in a yurt’ phase out of my head, thankfully!) I am fortunate to have no ‘evil Aunts’ among people I care about, though I've certainly met my share of them!”
You have your chance to meet evil Aunts, insect friends, and inspiring dreamers when you attend James and the Giant Peach at the Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre at the Des Moines Playhouse. The show opens this Friday January 3, with weekend performances through January 19. Tickets are available through the DM Playhouse website, by phone at 277-6261, or in person at the Playhouse Box Office.
Publicity photos by Steve Gibbons, courtesy of the DM Playhouse.