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Among the first lines spoken in Encore Stage & Studio’s new production of ‘The Hobbit’ is: “It’s like nothing exciting here has happened in ages. “
It was an appropriate metaphor for the theater in which the performance was taking place. Most local performing arts organizations (Encore included) abandoned theatrical performances at the start of the pandemic 20 months ago, leaving the previously vibrant strongholds of culture and entertainment lifeless.
But at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater, that drought ended on September 14 when Encore opened a two-week series of JRR Tolkien’s classic in which hobbits, elves and goblins unite to defeat a voracious dragon and reclaim what is legitimate. theirs.
“While there are still plenty of miles and bumps in our journey, reopening our production season is a long-awaited step forward,” said Sara Strehle Duke, Executive Director of Encore. She noted that while the organization was able to present shows online and outdoors during the pandemic period, there was nothing quite like coming home.
For those who missed Tolkien’s writings during their (culpable) formative years, the story gets a little complicated but settles down under the co-supervision of Susan Keady and Gabe Brown. And Encore’s high-caliber pre-pandemic technical staff remained in place to work their magic: Debra Leonard (costumes and makeup), Kristen Jepperson (decoration), Gary Hauptman (lighting) and Matthew Heap (composer).
An absence of so many months meant that new names and faces (well, more on “faces” later) are part of the Encore family. Newcomers and veterans who stood out on this show included Sarah McBurney as Bilbo Baggins, whose quiet hobbit life was turned upside down and turned into an adventure; Xander Tilock as Gandalf, the wacky wizard who sets everything in motion; Reagan Holland (Gollum), Janney Cooper (Thorin), Samantha Grooms (Dwalin) and Will Hemmens (King of the Elves), who we meet along the way; and Harper Herndon as Smaug, the dragon who can only be killed with a very special sword blow.
The show moved quickly but felt just a bit long for the attention span of its target audience (young children and, further in the pecking order, newspaper reviews). But there appeared to be few cast or crewed cobwebs that needed brushing due to the pandemic layoff. Everything seemed to work on all cylinders, to mix up the metaphors.
(Alas, due to what one can only conclude is an instinctive political stance of Arlington Public Schools, which owns the theater, performers on its stages must be fully masked despite being all vaccinated against COVID. . One wonders when a spoonful of common sense will return… If ever.)
At the start of the show, Bilbo Baggins states that there is no need to upset the routine of his boring but comfortable life. “No adventures here, thank you. . . we don’t want adventures here. Fortunately for the admiring public, adventures followed, making “The Hobbit” a worthy choice to resuscitate youth theater in the region.
“The Hobbit” continues through October 3 at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater, 125 South Old Glebe Road in Arlington. Performances take place on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
For more information, see the website at www.encorestage.org.