Matilda at Village Theatre

I am irredeemably torn after watching Village Theatre’s new production of Matilda, based on a novel by Roald Dahl. I have not read the book, but Dahl is noted for coherent stories that grip the imaginations of children and adults alike. This particular story concerns 5-year-old (roughly) Matilda Wormwood, whose parents torment her despite her obvious abilities (Matilda’s mother was “unaware” she was 9-months pregnant; her father refuses, even five years after her birth, to acknowledge that Matilda is not a boy). Matilda can read serious books even before starting school — Dickens and James Joyce and such — despite being constantly discouraged from reading by both parents, a discouragement that is echoed by her school’s headmistress and ignored by Matilda, who finds literary anchors in her teacher, Miss Honey, and librarian Mrs. Phelps, both of whom adore the young girl and consider her more than special.

Well and good. I presume Dahl’s novel was presented cogently, telling the above story in measured and logically-progressing words. Unfortunately, the stageplay underlying Village’s production skipped right past the logic and coherence to present three hours of blather and confusion … and therein lies the source of my dilemma.

The production here is superb. The cast does remarkable things with what they have to work with; particularly notable is Matilda herself (played on the night I watched by Holly Reichert, a role she splits with Nava Ruthfield). I can’t recall seeing a broader spread of stage emotion in an actor so young, and while I can’t speak for Ms. Ruthfield’s performance, not having seen her act, Ms. Reichert’s performance was a thing of joy. I can easily see a bright future for the young lady in years to come.

Likewise, choreography and costuming were superb. Special effects likewise. Village’s orchestra provided music that was broad and filling, yet unobtrusive, allowing the actors to shine on their own merits.

If only there had been a logical story for them to present. By the end of the over-long Act I, I had become convinced that A + B = Y. While too much material was presented in Act I, far too much of it was of little use to advancing the story. It’s a given that a playwrite adapting a novel to the stage must pick and choose what material to present; my quibble here is that playwrite Dennis Kelly seems to have opted to choose material on the basis of its guffaw content rather than on how it fits into Matilda’s story … the result being, we have more cartoon characters than strictly necessary (Matilda is most definitely NOT a cartoon) and far too little connective tissue tying the whole together.

The bottom line is that I can neither recommend the show to you, nor dissuade you from seeing Matilda. The performances may in and of themselves justify the price of admission, particularly those of the large juvenile cast (fourteen 8- to 12-year-old actors, many making their professional debuts). All of the actors, including the cartoons, do their best and manage to make hay with that they are given. At the same time, be prepared for a marathon that makes little sense (the show is three hours including a 15-minute intermission). It manages to get to a very Roald Dahl ending, but that ending seems tacked on. Perhaps the best thing I can say is, I look forward to seeing many of these actors in other productions down the road.

 

Matilda at Village Theatre: at the Francis J. Gaudette theatre in Issaquah through December 30, moving to Everett’s Performing Arts Center January 4-February 3, 2019. Tickets: Issaquah, 425-392-2202; Everett, 425-257-8600.

 

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