Zoot Theatre Company, Dayton’s enchanting puppet/mask troupe, supplies a wonderfully inventive and imaginative production of “The Hobbit,” adapted by Patricia Gray from J.R.R. Tolkein’s novel and whimsically co-directed by D. Tristan Cupp and J. Gary Thompson at the Dayton Art Institute.
This humorous, inspiring road trip through Middle-earth, propelled by fine original music by Thompson and brief moments of eye-catching stagecraft recalling Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”), concerns an unlikely heroic homebody and a merry, opinionated band of 13 dwarves determined to defeat the evil dragon Smaug and retrieve great treasure. The fanciful material’s adventurous magnetism is bolstered by Cupp and Thompson’s decision to dress and conceal the cast in black, allowing the audience to view the story simply through the eyes of various puppets, superbly designed with meticulously distinctive character by Cupp.
Led by an effortlessly winning and sympathetic Darren Brown as the humble Bilbo Baggins, the uniformly strong ensemble features solid supporting work by an authoritatively comedic Jeff Sams as Gandalf, the delightfully gruff Natalie Houliston as Thorin and the terrifically animated Andrew Ian Adams as the simultaneously sly and frustrated Gollum. Eric Arntz, Lisa Bernheim, Michael Favors, Juliet Howard-Welch, Austin Smith, CJ Suchyta, Nicole Thompkins and Ria Villaver complete the cast. Andy Balmert’s evocative lighting, Cupp’s efficient set, Shirley P. Wasser’s skillful costumes and Jon Lamm’s firm sound execution are additional pluses.
“The Hobbit” continues through Oct. 14 in the NCR Renaissance Auditorium of the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North, Dayton. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 65 minutes; Act Two: 40 minutes. Tickets are $12-$18. For tickets or more information, visit ZootTheatreCompany.org.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” the comedic battle of the sexes between hot-tempered Katherina and cunningly indomitable Petruchio heightened with brutishness, feistiness, impudence and mistaken identity, receives an uneven treatment at Sinclair Community College.
Director Nelson Sheeley’s breezy pace and effective Elizabethan touches (attractively aided by scenic designer Terry Stump, costumer Kathleen Hotmer and music director John Parcell) cannot hide the interpretative inconsistencies within his cast, amiable performers lacking a cohesive grasp of the language, nuances and rhythm in the colorful script. Some actors connect with vibrant adeptness and refreshing wit (Charles Larkowsi in particular is the finest Baptista I have seen) while others hurriedly recite lines without meaning or depth. Instead of fine-tuning key performances, Sheely seems to have been more concerned with thrusting the show into an all-out farce. However, his attempts are more forced than inspired, especially when it comes to flatulence, urination and a bejeweled codpiece.
Still, compatible and commendable leading players Hayley Penchoff and Isaac Hollister establish a convincingly combative rapport that keeps the action engaging and entertaining. The cast also includes Aeriel Aniballi, Samantha Creech, William G.L. Courson, John Dunn, Jordan Duvall, Jordan Huber, Destre Inlow, Rick McClintic, Zach Mills, Lucas Plum, John Ray, Rebecca Sebree, Tray Shelton, Josh Smith and Alayna Spence.
“The Taming of the Shrew” concludes tonight at 8 p.m. at Sinclair Community College, Blair Hall Theatre, Building 2, 444 W. Third St., Dayton. Act One-Three: 65 minutes; Act Four-Five: 55 minutes. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. For tickets or more information, call (937) 512-2808 or visit Sinclair.edu.