Play: The One-Hour Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Group: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
Venue: Center for the Arts, Lindenwood University, 2300 West Clay
Dates: December 11 and 12 at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Tickets: $10 and $15; contact 1-800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.org
Story: The story here is how those irreverent, fun-loving spoofsters who comprise the Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre ensemble took three very lengthy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien (four if you want to include their precursor, “The Hobbit”) or three very lengthy films by director Peter Jackson and condensed them into a one-act, 70-minute or so story about the adventures of Frodo, a free-spirited lad of the Shire who attempts to save Middle Earth and control the power of the Ring. Along the way he encounters sundry wizards, elves, dwarves, humans, orcs, wargs, Nazgul and the creature Gollum, a slippery and slimy sort who becomes his not-quite-trustworthy guide. Will Frodo and goodness triumph over evil and the seductive powers of the Ring? Stay tuned.
Highlights: Thanks to the dutiful efforts of John Wolbers and Liz Henning, the Monkey troupe enjoys a pared-to-the-bones adaptation that keeps this romp moving merrily along. Somehow, director Donna Northcott lassos the chaos of her unwieldy cast in loosely organized fashion, but more importantly allows the banter and hijinks of the players to ensure an evening of brisk entertainment.
While everyone goes at his or her roles with nobility and gusto, special shouts out are accorded Roger Erb as the nefarious Gollum, here channeling Bill Cosby as Fat Albert and speaking with a diction of creepy civility, and Suki Peters, complementing her blonde tresses with a persistent indifference to intelligence as the slow-witted Legolas. Wolbers amusingly captures the sweetness and light of the hobbit Frodo, while Chris “Mr.” Jones gamely journeys on his knees throughout to accommodate the short stature of the warrior dwarf, Gimli.
Other Info: Northcott’s indomitable technical contributors include Amanda Handle, whose set design and props provide the bucolic background of the Shire along with all manner of goofy gadgets. Henning offers any number of wacky costumes, while Jaime Zayas keeps the lights on every corner of the action and Jeff Roberts provides sounds that range from pastoral to ominous, all highly cinematic if also low-budget.
Navigating their way through drapes, cardboard doors and perilous steps while intoning their clever lines in highly trained classical style (?) are the likes of Aaron Orion Baker as the self-imperious Gandalf, Richard Lewis as the Tolkien toker Bilbo Baggins, Adam Thenhaus as Frodo’s earnest pal Samwise, Joshua Payne and Christian Viera as their show-thinking fellow travelers from the Shire, Merry and Pippin, and also Al Erickson, Tyson Blanquart, Ben Ritchie, Amy Kelly, Robert Mitchell and Laura Ernst, each contributing juicy bits of broad comedy. And not once did an actor bump accidentally into another; amazing!
The audience at the performance I saw included several who sighed at apparently appropriate moments, and everyone seemed genuinely amused, always a good sign whether in Middle Earth or at your local theater.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.