Review: ‘The Hobbit’ at the UCA

Skyler Leonard

I’m torn.

“The Hobbit,” staged by Patricia Gray, is a condensed and altered play version of the original book by great J.R.R. Tolkien. Now a cast and crew from Colorado State University is performing the play on a set that is wonderfully immersive.

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A large, uneven rocky floor is shadowed by an even bigger plastered tree that covers the entire stage. The excited CSU cast includes expressive dwarves, a scared hobbit and even a chuckling Gandalf on stilts. All of the cast does a great job at making the play an entertaining experience.

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Poster for “The Hobbit” at the University Center for the Arts. (Photo credits: UCA)

What isn’t great, and why I’m torn, is the altered text.

In short, I just don’t think “The Hobbit” is the type of story that translates well to the stage. This is coming from a person who has immensely enjoyed the other forms of the story, from the original text to the latest movies from Peter Jackson.

Much of the story has been changed to better suit the necessity of the stage. Dealing with a text that involves such high fantasy means some things present in the movie or book simply could not be a part of the production.

All of this is fine, and I can understand why certain things would have to be edited out to fit a different format. What is hard to get past is the fact that much of what I loved about “The Hobbit” isn’t there in the play version.

In the book and movie, I found Bilbo — the main character and titular hobbit — to be a feeble, perturbed hobbit that would be more ready to silently whimper in the face of evil than to scream.

Play-version Bilbo, portrayed by CSU senior Chris Olson, is more prone to be loud and shriek at the mention of a dragon.  I can understand the need to overact on the stage — it would be impossible to really portray a main character in the way described above on a stage. And, to his credit, Olson does a great job in comedic scenes where Bilbo needs to be the center of attention.

Yet for a person used to “The Hobbit” in their own imaginings, the play can be an abrupt, in-your-face rendition filled with conflicts that resolve all too easily without the struggle or character progression that make the journey worthwhile.

Many of the issues I have with “The Hobbit” come from the written play.

In this case, however, how the CSU crew and cast worked with the material is splendid.

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In particular the puppeteering work, which perplexed me to no end when I first saw it, was fantastic. It really came out of nowhere and raised the bar for what I thought was possible on a stage — especially from a college production.

Despite my own gripes with the staging and script, “The Hobbit” truly showcases the immense talent one can find at CSU. Even if I have issues with the material, it is worthwhile to support the great work that is done by the CSU community.

The play will be performed at the University Center for the Arts until May 3. A full list of showings can be found on the UCA’s website.

Collegian A&E Writer Skyler Leonard can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @skyler_leonard.