ATF’s “The Hobbit” Has the Thrill of Invention

What a great idea for Adirondack Theatre Festival to schedule a new stage adaptation by Greg Banks of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” as their second production of their 2022 main stage season. It’s a modern classic with huge name recognition, kid friendly, and tells an irresistible story of adventure about good triumphing over evil. Who couldn’t use a little of that today?

Rin Allen, Blake Segal/mcglaughlinphoto.com

That Director Joe Isenberg is as successful as he is with his intrepid cast of five is something of a miracle. There is a great deal of stage magic at work here which must have been somewhat stressful to create in the shortened summer theater rehearsal schedule. The cast, with the invaluable assistance of two stagehands, manipulates two large set pieces to create mountains and shires, caves and taverns, and dozens of Tolkien’s mythical creatures; dwarves, tree elves, goblins, giants, wolves, a dragon and of course, a hobbit.

Bilbo Baggins, played by Blake Segal, is a bit of a homebody enjoying his 4pm tea in his Adirondack chair (nice local touch) when Gandalf (in the person of Rin Allen) arrives to challenge him to retrieve the dwarves’ gold from the fearsome dragon Smaug’s lair. Segal does a fine job throughout the play as Baggins, the audience surrogate, meeting every challenge with wide eyed apprehension and summoning up the courage and wit to overcome all, until he eventually builds a taste for adventure.

After Gandalf marks Bilbo’s door with an “X” and exits, the other three cast members show up: Ryan Pater, Meagan Kimberly Smith and Marshall Evan McGuire. They are all highly personable, energetically game, good company for the afternoon’s quest. Their protean skills create all manner of Middle Earth’s inhabitants. I especially liked the spider, the giants and the goblins.

Ryan Pater, Meagan Kimberly Smith, Marshall Evan McGuire/mcglaughlinphoto.com

Rin Allen returns shortly into the first act with a scene stealing cameo as Gollum. Her original vocal and physical choices are riveting. She also does commanding work as the Elven Queen.

Artistic Director Miriam Weisfeld said in the curtain speech that the set designer Sarah Beth Hall was inspired by the aging and decrepit factories that have fallen into disuse that dot the Hudson Valley. There is a cracked wall upstage with a large, multi-paned window (perhaps looking on the factory floor) upstage. Two large rolling units that reveal multiple playing areas on stairs, the roofs, and in and around the structures give multiple opportunities for staging and it seems like every permutation has been explored.

The cast and director use these physical settings and some handheld and miner lights to great effect in the first act especially. If their invention and our interest flag in the second act, some of the sag might be shared with Tolkien. The wall and windows provide some terrific visual assistance in the second act, thanks to lighting designer Siobhan Sleath. Costumes by Brittney Belz pick up the industrial cue and has the cast in work clothes of jumpsuits, lab jackets and henleys. The setting is somewhat dark and grim (not unlike a year or two in quarantine) with the illuminating spark of invention and creativity piercing the gloom in flashes.

Meagan Kimberly Smith, Ryan Pater, Marshall Evan McGuire/mcglaughlinphoto.com

“The Hobbit” at ATF is a vivid, straightforward and sensible telling of this children’s classic and has many moments of fun creativity and invention.

Through 7/17 @ Adirondack Theatre Festival

Tickets: atfestival.org or 518-480-4878

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