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At a time when "The Lord of the Rings" sweeps the Academy Awards as a serious epic and J.R.R. Tolkien is regarded by some as a major philosopher (the man was actually a philologist), it’s something of a relief that the Heights Players has produced a version of "The Hobbit" that is both child-friendly and unpretentious.

Directed and designed by Bill Wood, this "Hobbit" delightfully creates the world of little people with hairy feet, mischievous elves and supercilious dwarfs. Josh Pearson is regal and austere as the wizard Gandalf, and Sam Greene almost steals the show as the evil, hissing Gollum.

This dramatization by Patricia Gray (a version authorized by Tolkien before his death in 1973) does not pretend to be a parable of human existence or a symbolic battle between good and evil. The funny little men are a bit silly and the evil monsters are not very scary. Of course, there’s plenty of fighting, with and without swords, but no one save the very youngest could ever think someone might get hurt in any of these altercations.

For those who have managed to live life blissfully unaware of those little creatures who live in Shire, between the River Brandywine and the Far Downs in Middle Earth, "The Hobbit," written in 1937, tells the tale of the stodgy hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who is sent on a dangerous mission - to steal back the treasure the nefarious dragon Smaug (Ed Healy) has taken from the dwarfs.

Baggins reluctantly sets out with the rowdy dwarfs. He goes through the Goblin Caves where the dwarfs battle the Goblins.

Afterwards he meets Gollum and accidentally finds the magic ring that will change his life.

A while later Baggins and the dwarfs come upon Murkwood Forest where they meet the wood elves and are taken hostage. But because the ring has the power to make the wearer invisible, Baggins manages to slip away. Eventually, the cranky little fellow prevails over all these obstacles and manages to return safe and sound to his quiet little hole.

Steve Velardi (who has previously appeared with the Heights players as Buddy in "Come Blow Your Horn" and Benny in "Guys and Dolls") plays Baggins so believably one suspects he might really be part hobbit. With his stout build and a smile that would make a newborn look evil, Velardi looks perfectly capable of enjoying six meals a day and a quiet pipe by the fireside. He is the unwilling hero par excellence.

"The Hobbit" was written as a preface to "The Lord of the Rings," published almost 20 years later. Although Bilbo has been hailed as the kind of epic hero Joseph Campbell wrote so famously about, it appears that Tolkien himself never made such pretentions about his work.

In the foreword to "The Lord of the Rings" he writes, "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence."

He further claimed that "The Lord of the Rings" is "neither allegorical nor topical," and it seems safe to assume that "The Hobbit" was written in the same straightforward manner.

Despite its complexity (it contains references to Norse mythology and the Anglo-Saxon epic "Beowolf"), "The Hobbit" is a fairytale, complete with wizards, dragons, trolls, goblins, elves and slimy creatures. If it has a message, it’s the message of all good fairytales - that good triumphs over evil, that obedience pays unless the demands for it are extraordinary, that the weak should be protected and that one should not be brave to the point of recklessness.

The Heights Players’ production is for children and all those adults who are lucky enough to have a child to bring with them - either by the hand or in their hearts.

 

The Heights Players’ production of "The Hobbit" runs through Feb. 20, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $12, $10 students and seniors. The Heights Players theater is located at 26 Willow Place between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights. For reservations call (718) 237-2752 or visit www.heightsplayers.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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