Reviews – Jack and Phil, Slayers of Giants INC (Washington DC, US)

Phil and Jack hide in terror as the Giant searches for its next meal—them! (L-R) Eric M. Messner, Adi Stein, Chris Dinolfo (Photo: Margot Schulman)Charles Way’s ‘Jack and Phil, Slayers of Giants INC’ received a great February 2016 first production in the US at Imagination Stage, directed by Janet Stanford. The play is suitable for family and school audiences.

Phil and Jack hide in terror as the Giant searches for its next meal—them! (L-R) Eric M. Messner, Adi Stein, Chris Dinolfo (Photo: Margot Schulman)

Jack and Phil, Slayers of Giants-Inc by Charles Way. Directed by Janet Stanford. Featuring Katy Carkuff, Chris Dinolfo, Jamie Smithson, Eric M. Messner, Adi Stein, Hayley Travers. Scenic Designer: Daniel Ettinger. Costume Designer: Debra Kim Sivigny. Lighting Designer: Robert Denton. Sound Designer: Christopher Baine. Puppet Designer: Matthew Pauli. Stage Manager: Trevor A. Riley. Produced by Imagination Stage.

Derek Schwabeon, MD Theatre Guide

9 February 2016

The centuries old fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk is sprouting up everywhere lately. Most recent incarnations appear in the likes of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, ABC Television’s Once Upon A Time, and the 2013 film, Jack the Giant Slayer. This hardy story obviously has staying power, and for good reason. It serves up a proven hero’s journey, offering audiences an unlikely hero we’d all like to be.

Imagination Stage’s latest adaptation in Jack and Phil, Slayers of Giants-INC, directed by Janet Stanford, sows all the right magical seeds and adds a few of its own to plant this tale squarely into the life of the 21st century American child. It creeps so close to home, that it just might startle you.

JACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants – INCJACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants – INC enriches a familiar tale, infusing more entertainment, education and life lessons for the contemporary family in all the right places.

Charles Way’s modern transcription of the classic tale manages to hold on to more original characters and props than you might expect, but supplements and exchanges a few others. A milk-less dairy cow becomes a family heirloom, while Jack’s mother fears a looming house foreclosure, not starvation. Even the word iPhone finds its way into the script! Casual costuming by Courtney Wood completes the story’s contemporary update. The script’s parlance is carefully catered to the young child of 2016, with new vocabulary words aptly embedded here and there.

Perhaps the most substantial (it’s right there in the title) and welcome addition is Phil, Jack’s endearingly sensible neighbor side-kick, brings quirky humor and a treasure trove of teachable moments. Phil’s bumbling father, Bill Coverall, serves as an adorably awkward admirer of Barbara, Jack’s mother. Other new characters include a groovy relic of a pawn shopkeeper, and a pair of outrageously broad-shouldered generals who enlist Jack and Phil in their giant-slaying mission. The new changes were just enough to even keep the adults guessing.

JACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants – INCChris Dinolfo set the show’s nimble and quick tone as an eager-eyed and presumptuous Jack. His performance accentuates Jack’s conflicting pursuits of pleasing his mother and pleasing his own pursuits of fame and fortune. Dinolfo’s erratic emotional range, guileless demeanor and goofy dance moves bring believability to his childish role. Meanwhile, Adi Stein cheerfully channels the level-headed friend in Phil, giving the character an admirable air of dependability without sacrificing youthfulness.

Katy Carkuff brings anxiety and tenderness to the role of Jack’s mother, Barbara, which was balanced by Eric E. Messner’s reassuring, if slightly stalker-ish portrayal of Phil’s father, Bill. Messner shows versatility by doubling as the voice of the giant—anything but reassuring. Two other dynamic cast members, Jamie Smithson and Hayley Travers rounds out the cast, taking on a variety of hilarious roles with wit and vigor, and garnering plenty of laughs along the way. If you hadn’t looked closely at your playbill, you might be surprised to find only six people standing before you for final bows. This versatile cast acts beyond its numbers, with some members doing double or triple duty.

A colorful, sophisticated and smoothly executed set gives this show the dynamism it needs to hold the interest of its audience members, most of whom were under age 10. It invites interaction from the first scene, which opens with characters racing through the aisles (make sure you get to your seat on time!). The audience is encouraged to shout, clap, and sing at choice moments, giving younger members a chance to get their wiggles out. Use of a large colorful screen and animated props bring plenty of extra activity for little eyes to follow. Bright lighting and bouncy, playful music set a spritely pace. A hands-down crowd favorite was the massive, billowing puppet used to portray the face of a positively terrifying man-eating giant. Shrieks and gasps echoed through the audience without fail each time the giant appeared.

JACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants – INC enriches a familiar tale, infusing more entertainment, education and life lessons for the contemporary family in all the right places. Imagination Stage does a consistently thorough job of presenting a rich tale, then encouraging continued conversation beyond the theatre. This production continues that tradition, offering families a fruitful story, brimming with valuable lessons and laughs, ripe for the picking.

Jayne Blanchard, DC Theatre Scene

February 8, 2016

Chris Dinolfo with the golden chicken in JACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants-INC at Imagination Stage (Photo: Margot Schulman)Jack and the Beanstalk has been given a musical and psychological twist by Stephen Sondheim in Into the Woods and now the classic fairy tale becomes modernized and kid-powered in a world premiere by Charles Way titled JACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants-INC.

The fresh and funny production emphasizes friendship and loyalty—bonds that endure despite ups and downs, extraordinary circumstances and the craziness of sudden fame.

Jack (Chris Dinolfo) is a popular, easygoing lad who is good at sports and breakdancing. His idyllic existence in the town of Chewville (rendered by set designer Daniel Ettinger in a cozy, retro backdrop that looks like a 1950s travel poster) by the looming reality of homelessness.

His mother Barbara (Katy Carkuff), recently widowed, is struggling to make ends meet and cannot pay the mortgage anymore. Their house is up for sale and Barbara is embarrassed by their circumstances.

Chris Dinolfo with the golden chicken in JACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants-INC at Imagination Stage (Photo: Margot Schulman)

Jack enlists his best friend and next-door neighbor Phil (Adi Stein) to figure out a way to avoid foreclosure. Phil is a careful and brainy guy to Jack’s daredevil ways. They go to a pawn shop presided over by a weird old hippie (Jamie Smithson, riotous in a variety of roles, including smarmy TV reporter Chaz Gravitas) who proposes an exchange—Jack’s heirloom gold pocket watch for a handful of “magic beans.” If the two boys “survive with honor” the pocket watch will be returned.

The beans indeed sprout into an enormous beanstalk that leads to the Giant’s lair (Puppet designer Matthew Pauli created the Giant’s enormous head with rotting brown teeth for a delightful ewwww factor), which is booby-trapped with golden treasures.

Aided by mastermind Phil, Jack makes off with a golden egg and a singing golden harp (Hayley Travers as a truth-blabbing, diva-esque instrument). All of a sudden, Jack’s a celebrity and a hero, although he conveniently cuts out Phil’s part in saving the day.

Their friendship is sorely tested, as Jack becomes a solo act and Phil is left behind. However, they must put aside their differences and unite when the Giant decides to come down from the beanstalk to feast on the citizens of Chewville.

JACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants-INC

The classic tale benefits from the contemporary updating, accentuating the friendship theme as well as the head-turning perils of modern fame and greed. Jack, of course, gets a viral music video that is Justin Bieber-like in its goofy egotism—although Bieber cannot boast of a rapping duet with a singing harp.

The cast is uniformly excellent, from Dinolfo’s spirited and often rash Jack (who knew Dinolfo was such a fly breakdancer?) and Stein’s more measured, smart and kind Phil to Carkuff’s loving and stressed Barbara and Eric M. Messner’s supportive and dorky Bill Coverall.

The humor is of the gross-out variety kids love—a gloppy Giant sneeze, sheep that fall from the sky with a “Baaaa!” and a splat. Some of the scenes of the thundering giant may be too intense for very young children, but older tykes will enjoy two young heroes who look like them and sometimes don’t think things all the way through—or in the case of Phil, over-think them.

The play shows that loyalty and strong family ties last forever, while celebrity is fickle—we watch as Jack goes from 10 million Facebook followers to zero in one unfortunate blip. Jack’s motto is “Fame and Fortune, Fortune and Fame!” but his experiences indicate he may want to change that to something less opportunistic.

Kendall Mostafavi, DC Metro Theater Arts

9 February 2016

There’s no doubt that you have heard the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, but have you ever heard of JACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants, INC? Imagination Stage has produced Playwright Charles Way’s take on the timeless fairy tale of the boy, who saves his family from losing their house by besting a giant, and gives it a boost into the 21st century, complete with cell phones, the secret service, and music videos. Jack and Phil are good friends and neighbors but the strength of their friendship is tested on this epic adventure, which is full of treasure, daring escapes, and lots and lots of hammers.

JACK and Phil is directed by Janet Stanford and with the help of her Creative Team, which includes Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger, Lighting Designer Robert Denton, Sound Designer Christopher Baine, and Costume Designer Debra Kim Sivigny, does a fantastic job bringing this classic tale to life.

The Giant this team has created is a truly larger than life puppet that, with the help of a booming voice-over, my 7 year-old described as “totally freaky”. And the lighting and sound effects produce believable transitions into the Giant’s realm at the top of the bean stalk.

At the center of the story is Jack, played by Chris Dinolfo, with Adi Stein playing his bff Phil. It is, at first, hard to determine exactly how young the duo is supposed to be but the two are ultimately well-matched, and Dinolfo plays the popular, impulsive, and reckless Jack with ease.

Stein’s Phil is an adorable nerd who shows how far a true friend will go to help a friend in need. Stein’s comedic timing is on-point and he delivers a large portion of the shows laughs with his quiet interjections and subtle mannerisms.

Jack’s mother, Barbara (Katy Carkuff), and Phil’s father, Bill (Eric M. Messner), have endearing relationships with each of their kids but are also characters with an obvious underlying connection. Messner is laughable with his awkward and blubbering attempts to talk to Carkuff, who is sadly just too distracted with the impending loss of her home to return his efforts at interaction.

Messner also supplies the voice of the evil, menacing Giant, who gloats about the ways he would devour poor Jack and Phil.

The rest of the roles in the show are played by Jamie Smithson (Bean-Broker/General 1/TV Reporter) and Hayley Travers (Harp/General 2/TV Interviewer). The two do a great job in each of their diverse rolls but Smithson’s dorky and over-eager TV reporter stands out as his best. And Travers sassy, egocentric Harp is hilarious.

This comedic adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk is fun and fast-paced and teaches the importance of honesty and true friendship. The theater recommends that the show is best for ages 5 and up, and I agree simply because the Giant is so well done and successfully scary.

Imagination Stage has put together a fantastic cast and creative team. JACK and Phil, Slayers of Giants, INC is a great new twist to an old story and is guaranteed family fun.

Heather Nadolny, Broadway

If you only had one friend in the world who may be leaving you, how far would you go to help him? And when your friendship is tested by overwhelming obstacles, how do you fix it?

Such are the central questions asked by Jack (CHRIS DINOLFO) and Phil (ADI STEIN) in Imagination Stage’s JACK AND PHIL, SLAYERS OF GIANTS-INC. The story is a modern, somewhat silly retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, with a host of other characters thrown into the mix.

Jack, afraid that he and his mother will lose their house to the bank, enlists his neurotic, devoted friend Phil to help him find some fast cash. The pair travels across their hometown of Chewsville to a pawn shop where they exchange Jack’s family heirloom watch for “magic beans” and a sage warning. Once the beans grow into the largest beanstalk anyone has ever seen, the friends begin a dividing quest involving golden objects, a talking harp, fame-crazed parents and a man-eating giant.

The modern twist on this story works pretty well. The characters have televisions and iPhones, and Jack’s and Phil’s quest becomes a media sensation. Jack’s meteoric fame quickly goes to his head, and both boys are forced to learn what happens when you keep secrets or lie. While it’s a bit repetitive with the structure of the story, it makes sense to keep building the problems between the boys. Adults will enjoy some humor clearly written for them, and children will enjoy the over the top characters.

The dynamic of these two unlikely friends is great. Dinolfo makes Jack an impulsive “act first, regret it later” type of jock, and Stein helps you remember Chucky in “Rugrats” constantly saying “I don’t think this is a good idea”. Stein portrays a wonderful combination of shy, sarcastic and loyal, showing how much he wants to keep his friend. Dinolfo is funny, engaging, and every child in the audience loved his dance moves.

The pair are supported by a talented ensemble, some newcomers and some returners to Imagination Stage. KATY CARKUFF as Jack’s mom Barbara is both sassy and empathetic. She is especially good when her character displays what sudden fame and cameras can do in the moment. JAMIE SMITHSON plays three outrageous characters, the best being Chaz, a stuttering, overexcited reporter who seriously struggles with adjectives. ERIC M. MESSNER is Phil’s dad Bill, a constant salesman whose flustered addresses to Barbara are fun.

Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger gives the production a fairly simple but strategically sound set. The entire stage is set in a blue and green frame, with Phil’s house on the left and Jack’s on the right. When the boys are up in the mysterious cloud, the giant appears through two metal openings to illustrate size. It’s a smart design; however, it looked like some of the transitions between scenes still needed to be worked out with both actors and stagehands.Sound Designer Christopher Baine does a good job of balancing volume with the giant, and gives humor with the sounds of falling sheep.

JACK AND PHIL, SLAYERS OF GIANTS-INC gives audiences a lot of fun, but also a good set of lessons. It teaches the ideas of being kind to your friends, doing the right thing, and remembering what matters when everything suddenly changes, either for better or for worse. Children and adults will get a lot of laughs, but they will also get a good time together. And that can be a giant task.