I always enjoy the plays in the Volcano Amphitheatre in the summer. There’s something about sitting down on a blanket with the cool grass on my bare feet, the view of the lit stage as the sun begins to set, my picnic laid out before me and good company by my side. But this production was a bit different than most I have attended. Children, lots of children, were playing nearby as attendees of the production as well.
Of course, I have seen children at other summer plays before, but this was many more children than usual! I like kids, so I was happy to see how excited they were to be there anxiously anticipating the commencement of “James and the Giant Peach,” by Roald Dahl, adapted by David Wood and directed by Marty Brifman.
It was clear why many children filled the audience, as “James and the Giant Peach,” is popular among youth, first incepted in 1961 as a children’s novel. Not only that, but the production promised a lot of interaction between the crowd and the set, as the children were able to help James and his insect friends. It was very exciting because this was the first production that I have ever seen with audience participation!
James Henry Trotter, played by 13-year-old Conor Clinton, meets misfortune when his loving parents pass away from a random freak accident and is forced to go live with his two despising and horrific aunts, Aunt Sponge (Brenda Metzger) and Aunt Spiker (Mitch Alaire). The aunts continuously treat James as their personal slave, constantly yelling out “Fix our supper!” “Chop more wood!” “Make us breakfast!” and countless other demands. Played by two theatre geniuses, Metzger and Alaire portray these two repulsive women as the aunts that you love to hate.
One night, when James believes that there is no longer hope in living a normal and happy childhood, he gets a visit from the mystical voice of an old man, voiced by David Cohen, in which a bag of magical beans is placed into James’ possession. After Aunt Sponge startles James, the bag of beans goes flying into the air, and he believes he has lost his chance at escaping his cruel aunts. Until…the sun rises, and a gigantic peach has blossomed where the seeds fell. The news outlets are all over the new discovery of the giant peach, and the comical TV Reporter (Victor Martinez) had the crowd laughing the whole time.
This is where James’ adventure begins! As he meets some silly insects, Grasshopper (Madison Stevens), Centipede (Brooke Marie Dillian), Lady Bug (Maeve Clinton), Earthworm (Bailey Wilson) and Miss Spider (Megan Lukasha), they all embark on an outlandish journey to escape the clutches of Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. They use teamwork to put their heads together in order to get out of the conundrums they run into along the way.
“James and the Giant Peach” is a must see production this summer. Between the incredibly detailed and artistic set design, painted by the talented Lindsay McCain, the fantastic use of puppets throughout the entire show, and the great interaction between the crowd and the set, “James and the Giant Peach” was, in my opinion, the best production I have seen.
From throwing candy out to the children, to having them come sit on the stage, to having the crowd answer questions and reply to actors and actresses, this production was nothing short of just all-around entertainment, exuberance and fun! It’s safe to say I smiled and laughed throughout the whole show, and the run time is about 90 minutes, which is perfect for the kids.
“James and the Giant Peach” runs every Friday and Saturday, now through August 3. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. for picnicking and the show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are available online at volcanotheatre.net or by calling (209) 419-0744. Don’t forget to bring a sweater and mosquito repellent!