An imaginative, unabridged 'Wizard of Oz'

The Wizard of Oz is one of the best-known stories in the world. But most people only know it from the 1939 MGM film—meaning that most folks only know part of the story.

L. Frank Baum’s sweeping, imaginative novel contains several plot points and storylines left out of the famous film adaptation. In the movie, the wily Wizard does not exit the story, in his badly piloted balloon, until the end, but in the novel, his sudden departure takes place at the halfway point, after which Dorothy and her friends experience numerous additional adventures, none of which made their way into the movie.

As a result, most people don’t know about the vicious hammerheads, which stand near the Forest of the Fighting Trees, between the Emerald City and Quadling Country, where everyone wears red. Most people are unacquainted with China Country, where everyone is made out of china, the breakable kind. No one knows that after melting the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy is given a magic cap which gives her control over the army of flying monkeys. And that epic battle between the Cowardly Lion and a monstrous spider? Forgotten.

The very notion of stagin the entire original plot of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book, in a single evening’s entertainment seems both improbable and overambitious. But “improbable” and “ambitious” are what Santa Rosa’s Imaginists Theater Collective does. In the current production, playing to full houses since opening in early March, a cast of 12 actors romp through a wildly innovative, slightly ramshackle but wholly entertaining condensation of Frank Baum’s rambling fantasy masterpiece—managing to squeeze in just about everything in the book.

Directed by Brent Lindsay, this sweet and swiftly paced adaptation skips and dances through some appealingly low-tech special effects (Dorothy’s cyclone is created using a billowing dress and a pair of blow dryers), as well as some dazzling snippets of stop-motion animation and clever shadow puppetry.

The acting of the ensemble is spirited and inventive, though a tad uneven now and then. Still, the overall experience is so engaging and delightfully entertaining that the occasional mushy bits do little to detract from the pleasure of the show. It’s a bit like watching a crazy parade formed to celebrate the genius of L. Frank Baum, the joy of personal expression and the improbable power of theater.

‘The Wizard of Oz’ runs through March 18 at The Imaginists, 461 Sebastopol Ave., in Santa Rosa. Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday, 5pm. $12–$15. 707.528.7554.

Sonoma County Library