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TOY's 'Big Friendly Giant' is good whimsical fun

"The BFG" is bloody good fun.

Now, if you've read the Roald Dahl children's novel on which the play is based, you may be tempted to take that point literally. So for the sake of any hand-wringing parents out there, let me clarify:

The gruesome descriptions of child-chomping giants that make the book such a subversive early reader do not figure prominently in Theatre of Youth's adaptation. In fact, the lone dramatization of a kiddy smorgasbord is handled, well, tastefully. As characters with names like Meatdripper and Bonecruncher savored handfuls of youngsters -- portrayed onstage as puppets -- it struck me that I've seen more primitive behavior at the carving station at Old Country Buffet.

"BFG" stands for "Big Friendly Giant." As the title suggests, Dahl went against the grain of fairy tale writers in his beloved 1982 novel, characterizing a giant whose conscience looms as large as his shadow. That's why, unlike the rest of his species, the BFG massacres only the English language. Its people are off-limits.

In TOY's whimsical production, Tim Newell ably fills those XXL shoes. Like others in the cast, his cockney accent is sometimes hard to understand, more the fault of acoustics and microphones than enunciation. Regardless, he never abandons his emotional core, even as he's delivering the BFG's trademark malapropisms and invented language.

Newell's gentle expressiveness is complemented by Anne Roaldi's spirited portrayal of Sophie. In her eager body language and confident delivery, Roaldi captures the precocity of the classic Dahl protagonist -- a worldly wise youngster who is irreverent of adults and open to adventure.

As the Queen of England, Kathleen Betsko Yale pulls off a masterly improvisation. She even has that famous motorcade wave down pat. When "BFG" ends its run, Betsko Yale ought to consider applying for a job as her majesty's royal body double.

Kenneth Shaw's malleable set seamlessly transfers the "BFG" action from familiar locales, like Buckingham Palace, to otherworldly settings. Although Brian Cavanaugh's clever lighting enhances the drama elsewhere, in the Dream Country sequence he overdoes the gauzy effect, obscuring the choreography.

Director Meg Quinn deserves praise for nimbly downplaying the morbid humor while never neglecting the story's more wholesome comic appeal. She keeps the two-act play moving at a steady clip, though the climax, in which the British army captures thegiants, falls flatter than Jack's beanstalk.

And as for the giants? They not only steal kids but entire scenes as well. Friday night, when they sauntered onstage to the beat of an imposing march, smacking their lips and sniffing the air, giggles overtook the Allendale. The actors' oversized masks with their grotesque features reminded me of Maurice Sendak's wild things.

Of course, Dahl purists will note that these wild things have diminished in rank. The book features nine villains, while the play accommodates just four.

Apparently, even giants are susceptible to downsizing.

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>Theater Review

"The BFG: Big Friendly Giant"

Review: Three stars (out of four)

Drama presented by Theatre of Youth in Allendale Theatre through April 9.

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