Grown-up human beans is not famous for their kindnesses. They is all squifflerotters and grinksludgers.” And thus Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book “The BFG” comes to very lively life in David Wood’s stage adaptation with its language intact, under the spirited and inventive direction of Whit MacLaughlin. With the help of an energetic cast and Aaron Cromie’s astonishing masks and puppets, the Big Friendly Giant and Sophie (the “poor little scrumplet”) once again defeat the evil giants in a show both adults and kids will find enjoyable.
Part of Dahl’s genius is that he risked the gross and the gruesome in his famous children’s stories rather than provide kids — who love being freaked out and shocked by fart jokes, vomiting and dismemberments — with saccharine comforts. The Arden Theater Company’s production manages to provide plenty of gleeful “whizzpopping” (the result of drinking frobscottle) and scary effects without crossing any lines.
Cromie’s huge masks for the giants are grotesque and ugly (as befits creatures with names like Bloodbottler, Childchewer and Gizzardgulper), but since the actors’ bodies are visible below them, the fright factor is controlled. In a show about size — giants and little children — the Arden production finds ways to create eye-widening illusions using stilts and miniature buildings and a variety of clever visual devices. Cromie’s decision not to use Quentin Blake’s illustrations as the basis for his mask design makes the monsters less cartoony.
Crucial to this is the tiny look-alike puppet representing Sophie, manipulated with great charm by Maggie Lakis, who speaks Sophie’s lines. As the BFG, Peter Pryor gets it just right; he speaks the “swiff-squiddled” language with a straight face and never patronizes either Sophie or the audience.
A framing device of Sophie’s birthday party has been added, probably unnecessarily, to Dahl’s book. This introduces us to the other actors as her friends and family, who decide to act out Sophie’s favorite book, “The BFG,” when the hired magician doesn’t show up. They reappear entertainingly in other guises — Ben Dibble, who plays the fiercest of the giants, turns up in Sophie’s dream as a school principal doing the hustle in a white suit, while Catherine Slusar eventually gets to roll her R’s majestically as the Queen who will save the day.
Lewis Folden’s set piles one world on top of another — from a cluttered attic in Sophie’s house to Buckingham Palace — and chandeliers and helicopters appear with magical ease, preserving a storybook quality of turning pages. Richard St. Clair’s costumes are amusing, with the kids’ party clothes reappearing in ragged versions as the Giants’ clothes.
Perhaps the show’s strength lies in its low-tech creativity; this is theatricality based on imagination rather than big-budget gadgets, made by hand and performed by “human beans” who bring much charm and affection to the task.