“James and the Giant Peach:” fitting for children’s theater

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A giant peach squished the first play of the semester at Dixie State University flat, just like it did to Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker.

The play is designed as a children’s theater production, but, even so, the play seemed a little too childish. While children’s theater is meant to be over-the-top and fast-paced, it is not meant to sound like the actors are talking down to children. The lines felt over-acted, like they would in a rehearsal. From the costumes to the set, the whole thing felt like a high school theater production.

Matt Russell, who played Centipede; Justine Davis, who played Spider; and Andrew Bullard, who played Earthworm, were, by far, the closest to what I see children’s theater being. They were outlandish without being extreme, and the children’s laughter in the audience during their scenes made them seem like the favorites.

Some of the other actors were extremely difficult to hear. From where I sat in the fifth row, I was only able to hear about half of the lines spoken by Grasshopper and Ladybird. There was also one scene where the ship captain and two of his crew members were right in the orchestra pit. Despite how close the orchestra pit comes to the audience, I couldn’t hear anything the crew members said. The only characters with microphones were Centipede and the narrator when other cast members could have used microphones as well.

Part of the difficulty of hearing the actors were the sound effects, which were overpowering for the most part. They could have been cut down to a seagull sound effect and maybe the boat horn instead of adding in the creaking noises for the peach or the raven noises at random. 

I was also rather distracted by most of the bug costumes. A few of the costumes would have been impossible to tell what they were if the bugs didn’t have their species as character names. The main costume choices that seemed confusing were Glowworm and Ladybird. The costume for Glowworm was too much fabric and drowned the actor. Ladybird’s costume was an awkward mix of human and bug characteristics.

Not all of the costumes were awkward, though. James and Aunt Sponge were costumed perfectly. I do have to give kudos to Danica Christensen, playing James, who appeared to have cut off all of her hair for the show. When I originally spoke with her before the show opened, she had long, black hair. In the show, she had a pixie cut.

Jacob Beecher, who played Aunt Sponge, had outrageous makeup that worked for the role as such an eccentric, and his ability to seem comfortable in a dress was cause in and of itself for applause.

Other aspects of the technical side of the show made the play unique. Director Mark Houser chose to give the play a storybook theme, complete with the edges of the stage looking like an open book. The set included multiple two-dimensional cutouts to help achieve the pop-up book feeling. The best example in the show was, by far, the very beginning scene showing Mr. and Mrs. Trotter being chased by a wild animal.

The play’s lighting also kept the fantasy feeling alive. Multiple scenes used stencils over the lights to give them a more whimsical feeling.

The only suggestion I would offer on the technical aspects of the play is to be wary of actor and technician movements backstage. I could see people moving around behind the scenes multiple times, even though I was sitting in the center of the audience.

Overall, the play was a little bit overdone, and it was condescending at times because of how over-acted the lines seemed. “James and the Giant Peach” is still a good show, and it is great for children, but don’t go in expecting anything but children’s theater. 

The play continues on the Eccles Main Stage Oct. 1-5.