The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title James and the Giant Peach
Organization Sutter Street Theatre
Date(s) of show January 24 - February 15, 2015
Reviewer Gerry Camp

Here’s what happens in Roald Dahl’s book James and the Giant Peach (at Sutter Street Theatre now in a dramatization by Richard R. George): Four-year-old James Trotter has his parents eaten by an escaped rhinoceros. He goes to live with two vicious aunts who treat him as a slave and refer to him as “maggot” and “filthy little beast.” He meets a strange man who gives him magic crocodile tongues. James accidentally drops the magic tongues near a peach tree and they cause a peach and the insects living inside to grow large.

James moves into the giant peach with the insects, who are now his size. They break the peach loose and it squashes the aunts before falling into the ocean. It is attacked by sharks but, using the blind earthworm as bait, James and friends use spider webs and silk from the Silkworm to attach the peach to a flock of seagulls. The flock evades a tribe of attacking “cloud men” who control the weather.. The peach’s threads are cut by a passing airplane and the peach finally comes to rest in New York City. James is honored in a parade and his insect friends find interesting futures in the human world.

Do we see all this on the stage at Sutter Street Theatre? Well, no, but yes also. To actually present these scenes would require a Broadway stage, 50 stage hands, and a budget of a million dollars. Sutter Street, on its tiny stage and budget of, say $45 dollars, uses a single minimal set, cute insect costumes created by Eileen Beaver, and twelve wonderful child actors (and one adult) to create this fantastic story in the imaginations of the audience.

The play is presented as a story being told, and all children learn to create in their minds stories being read or told to them. The teller, in this version, is Hayley Fitzpatrick, who moves throughout the theater narrating. The actors mime the actions with dialogue on stage. Thirteen-year-old Cameron Wall is a charmingly innocent James. The insects are led by Brandon Hunter as Centipede, supported by Hannah Hurst as Old-Green-Grasshopper, Hugo Lemoine as Spider, Aurora Giacobbe as Glowworm, Marissa Stamas as the puppet Silkworm (and James’s father and a few other characters), and Mia Comstock as the cutest Ladybug you could imagine. Summer Allen nearly steals the show as the blind Earthworm. Several of the bugs play other small parts as well.  It is their acting, directed by Allen Schmeltz, that brings the story to life in the imaginations of the audience.

The cast is rounded out by Jennie Vaccaro and Andrea Davidson as the nastiest aunts imaginable, Hannah Vaccaro in several small parts after James’s Mother is devoured by the rhino, and Zoe Comstock in a few tiny parts. The lone adult in the cast, Kevin Judson, is effective as the Old Man who gives James the magic tongues, the terrified captain of the Queen Mary, which the giant peach flies over, and the New York Fire Chief, who marries the Ladybug, relieving her life-long worry that her house will catch fire and her children will burn.

Sutter Street Theatre has again shown that you don’t need a big stage and a huge budget to provide a delightful hour of entertainment. All you need is actors who can bring the story to life in the imaginations of the children (and we’re all children when we see this show) to whom the story is being read.

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