I can try to paint you a picture of Babe the amazing sheep pig: blinking, clutching Farmer Hoggett with his piggy fists, pudgy
around the middle, with too short pink pants, head bald save for a small wiry shock of white fur at the tip top, prancing around the stage with endearing little hops, simultaneously newborn and agéd, fearful yet fun-loving, letting go weirdly loud snorts of piggish delight, falling sweetly in love with Fly the sheep dog, learning to herd sheep, struggling to remember the complicated password.
But really, there’s no way I can reproduce the impact of Dean Holt‘s performance in Babe, The Sheep Pig (at the Childrens Theatre Company, through Feb 27). You’ll have to check him out for yourself. Lithe and athletic, with an astonishingly malleable Joe E. Brown face, Holt easily purloins this play. It’s hard to take your eyes off him and, indeed, you get the feeling that this is a role that Holt’s been preparing for for years. He elevates the play and takes a sweet but frankly unremarkable story and sends it into the theatrical stratosphere.
Playwright Dick Wood adapted the novel The Sheep-Pig, by Dick King Smith (the novel was the basis for the popular film Babe). The story is simplicity itself: Farmer Hoggett wins Babe (by guessing his weight), takes him home, where Babe quickly wiggles his way into everyone’s hearts. He charms the sheep dogs, and wins over the sheep, acquiring such skill that Hoggett decides to enter him in a sheep herding contest.
As Fly the Sheep Dog, Mo Perry (making her CTC debut) gives a wonderfully earnest performance – no surprise here. I was delighted to see Reed Sigmund‘s understated and nuanced Farmer Hoggett; I wasn’t sure Sigmund was capable of this kind of subtlety. Elizabeth Griffith (also making her CTC debut) delights as Mrs. Hoggett; she’s not afraid to let her youthfulness work for her.
As always, the design at the Childrens Theatre thrills. I was especially taken by Sonya Berlovitz‘s “found” barnyard costumes: a red glove on the rooster’s head, orange swim fins for the ducks. She also scores major points, in my opinion, by not making Dean Holt overtly pig-like; she lets his vivid personality shine through. Peter Brosius directs with workpersonlike efficiency – and without the over-the-top theatricality that so often informs the work at this theater. Excellent.
It’s the morning after the show and I find I’m still under Holt’s sway. So here’s what I’m thinking: that the Legislature should take some of their license plate millions and vote Holt a tax-free grant – something in the mid six figures would be appropriate – with the proviso that he not be allowed to leave the state of Minnesota for 10 years. Failing this, you should get hold of some youngsters, go to CTC and see Babe, The Sheep Pig.
For more info on John Olive please check out his website.