The Big Friendly Giant must’ve been dozing, or “snozzling,” as he would say, when one of the best dreams he ever caught escaped and landed at Imagination Stage.
The company’s production of Roald Dahl’s 1982 classic, “The BFG,” adapted for the stage by David Wood, feels like a dream come to life. Huge, ingenious stage puppets, live actors in masks, projections and more fill the stage in a happy, synchronous jumble.
Co-directors Kathryn Chase Bryer and Eric J. Van Wyk (Van Wyk also designed the puppets, set and projections) see to it that the complexity of the staging never confuses the story or impedes the fun. Actors and puppeteers manipulate props and puppets with precision. All speakers maintain Dahl-worthy British accents.
The adventure in “The BFG” belongs to an 8-year-old named Sophie (an excellent Megan Graves), a bespectacled orphan who often speaks some of Dahl’s narrative aloud. Sophie looks out her window one night and spies a towering giant (James Konicek inside a huge puppet contraption) going house to house with a net and a horn.
He sees her watching and, fearing she might disclose his secret work, he snatches her up and galumphs away with her, “each stride as long as a tennis court.” In his cave, he explains to the terrified girl that he means no harm. “I is the Big Friendly Giant,” he tells her. The rest of his giant cohorts are horrible child-eaters.
A backpack strapped to actor Konicek’s torso provides the center of gravity for the BFG puppet and a sort of skeleton for kids to peer into. Its head, with a large pointy nose and enormous ears, sits high above the frame, while long arms and huge hands dangle to the floor. Black-clad puppeteers move the giant’s feet, arms and hands when needed. Konicek operates the mouth from within, his face barely visible. Yet his booming baritone and perfect diction ease through the BFG’s mangled English.
By showing kids the wheels of the production, so to speak, with such transparent stagecraft, the co-directors mitigate the darker aspects of the story — child-eating giants, a mistreated orphan. And they fold in other theatrical grace to add a sense of mystery and wonder: the multicolored glow of the BFG’s “dream jars” framing the stage, shadow puppetry and bits of animation, otherworldly music by composer and sound designer Christopher Baine, raggedy vestments by costume designer Jeffrey Stolz.
The bad giants have grim monikers such as Fleshlumpeater and Gizzardgulper. A central backdrop lifts to reveal a gaggle of them, chatting about their next dinner — children in Turkey. Actors in masks play them in this tableau, but when one comes to bully the BFG in person, he has morphed into another huge stage puppet.
The BFG eats only “snozzcumbers,” which are nutritious but “disgusterous.” He introduces Sophie to them and to “frobscottle,” a drink whose bubbles travel down instead of up, resulting in belches that emit from one’s lower end. The BFG calls this “whizzpopping.” We call it something else. Sophie and the BFG levitate as they let loose, lifted by puppeteers and other actors. Kids will totally love this interlude of fizzy flatulence.
The BFG is a dream catcher and supplier. He shows Sophie how he employs his net to collect children’s good dreams, then blows them through his great horn into other children’s bedrooms. He keeps their nightmares locked in dream jars.
When Sophie and the BFG overhear the child-eaters plotting to eat the children of England, they speed-walk to Buckingham Palace. The BFG blows a docu-dream into the bedroom of the queen (Susan Lynskey). Once the good lady awakes and learns it’s all true, the bad giants haven’t a chance.
Here’s one of many reasons why both adults and kids (it’s recommended for ages 5 to 10) should see “The BFG”: Lynskey’s monarch wears a crown in bed and does that queenly wave even as she sleeps. Later, she orders a huge pancake breakfast for the BFG.
Pancakes aside, there’s nothing syrupy about this show. It is a savory treat for all ages.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
Based on the book by Roald Dahl, adapted by David Wood. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and Eric J. Van Wyk. Lighting design, Jason Arnold. With Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Emily Kester, Matthew McGee, Jon Hudson Odom, Austin Sargent, Matthew Schleigh, Angi Smolik and Alex Vernon. $10 to $30. Weekend shows include an intermission and run 90 minutes; weekday shows have no intermission and run 80 minutes. Through Aug. 10 at Imagination Stage, 4808 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. 301-280-1660. www.imaginationstage.org.