BWW Reviews: Roald Dahl's THE MAGIC FINGER Premieres at Imagination Stage
Although The Magic Finger is by far one of Roald Dahl's lesser known children's books, David Wood's stage adaptation, now playing at Imagination Stage, proves that it's no less fantastically creative than his better known stories such as Matilida, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach. Brought to life by a remarkably talented cast - also featured in Imagination's production of James and the Giant Peach - The Magic Finger offers a thoroughly entertaining glimpse at the power of speaking up about what's right.
At the center of The Magic Finger is our young heroine Lucy (the delightfully charming and expressive Megan Graves). This animal lover is not the smartest kid in her school class when it comes to academics, but she's wise beyond her years when it comes to standing her ground to overcome injustice and finding a solution to even the most seemingly insurmountable problems. When Lucy visits her schoolmate William Gregg's (Matthew Schleigh) idyllic farmhouse, she's distraught that he and his quite normal parents (Leigh Jameson and Eric Messner) hunt ducks for pure sport. In the past, she's dealt with her anger about instances of cruelty - whether to animals or children - by turning the abusers into animals using her almighty index finger. So, it should come as no surprise that she turns the Gregg family into little bird people. At the same time, the surviving ducks (the hilarious Joe Brack, Lauren Du Pree, and Phillip Reid - dressed in delightful costumes by Kendra Rai) grow exponentially in size. A role reversal occurs and all involved learn important lessons about compromise, respect for life, controlling anger, and dealing with impossible situations in the best ways possible.
Director Kathryn Chase Bryer brings out the best in her actors and does an exceptional job focusing Wood's adaptation. This production makes the story accessible to children of all ages and plays up the fantastical elements while not watering down Dahl's powerful message. Using puppets (Matthew McGee), fun music and sounds - including La Bamba of all things - (Christopher Baine), exciting lighting design (Cory Ryan Frank and assistant Jedidiah Roe), and audience participation, she allows the audience to fully immerse itself into Lucy's world.
If I were to state one quibble, I would say that although Milagros Ponce de Leon's design of the farmhouse where most of the action takes place is visually impressive, the structural design is slightly problematic from a blocking standpoint. Some particularly funny scenes in the bedroom and bathroom - the details of which won't be spoiled here - may not be entirely visible to the entire audience thanks to the inclusion of numerous bars on the upper floor and the angle of the house's placement on the stage.
Luckily, however, thanks to the comedic strengths of the actors (Joe Brack in particular), the audience can still be in on the jokes to some extent - and there are jokes aplenty in this play. The balance between the teaching moments and the funny moments is nearly perfect in every possible way.
Running Time: 80 minutes including an intermission.
The Magic Finger plays at Imagination Stage - 4908 Auburn Avenue in Bethesda, MD through June 2, 2013 in rep with James and the Giant Peach. For tickets, call the box office at 301-280-1660 or purchase them online.
Photo Credit: Margot Schulman (Megan Graves pictured).