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Great Adventures and Scary Monsters in “The Hobbit” at Sutter Street Theatre

Review by Gerry Camp

Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit, a shy, stay-at-home creature dwelling in the land of Middle Earth in J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” When Bilbo is told by the wizard Gandolf he must go on an adventure to slay the fearsome dragon Smaug and regain the treasure Smaug has stolen from the dwarf kingdom, Bilbo faints at the thought. When he comes to, he learns that he will be accompanied on this adventure by a dwarf, Thorin, who is almost as reluctant as Bilbo.

Sean Stewart, one of my favorite actors, is Bilbo in Sutter Street Theatre’s latest family series production. I have been fortunate to have acted with Sean in FreeFall Stage’s “Shadowland,” and I’ve seen him in several other plays. For an actor so young, twelve-year-old Sean, an Elly-nominated performer, is always convincing, whether as a Peanuts character, the son of a dying mother, or a schoolboy with his first love. His Bilbo has a wonderful British (or Hobbit?) accent and draws his audience easily into this fantasy world. When I learned Sean was playing Bilbo, I knew I had to see this show.

Ken Anderson is a compelling Gandolf. No one would disobey his instructions. Haydon Namgostar, a rather large dwarf, seems perpetually angry, but is always there when he is needed.

As this group makes its way to the Misty Mountains, where Smaug dwells, Bilbo at one point gets separated from the others in the dark Mirkwood. There he finds a magic ring, which makes him invisible when he puts it on. Having this ring saves his life when he is confronted by an evil magical creature, Gollum. Gollum is my favorite creature in the show, a life-size grotesque puppet created by theatre genius Michael Coleman and animated by Riley Anderson in a black costume that renders him virtually invisible as he brings the puppet to life. Riley is excellent in the monster parts of the show, later showing up as a life-size spider.

There are a total of eleven actors in “The Hobbit,” many playing several of the twenty plus characters, trolls, elves, guards, goblins, eagles, in fantastic costumes created by Sutter Street costumer Eileen Beaver and Felicia Slechta. Gavin Brossard stands out as a troll, the Great Goblin, Beorn, and finally as Smaug, the dragon himself, another puppet created by Mike Jimena. All the members of this ensemble do a super job, keeping the story moving from one unexpected threat to the next.

Director Allen Schmeltz has taken this much-condensed version of the story, adapted by Markland Taylor, and made it into a wonderful adventure, a perfect afternoon of theatre for children of all ages. It’s scary, but not too scary for the youngest in the audience who will especially enjoy the thrills.“The Hobbit” plays Saturdays and Sundays at 1 P.M. through April.