Christopher Piper’s rousing welcome to the Puppet Co’s production of Hansel and Gretel opens floodgates of responses from little ones trained to sit still and be quiet. With permission to giggle and laugh out loud at the antics, everyone sits back to enjoy what awaits.
Interspersed with the playful introductory banter, Piper sneaks in historical references to the various versions of the folktale, hinting how the dark original ending from the Brothers Grimm was grim indeed. The adaptation by Len, Pat and Christopher Piper, a puppet family affair, has a much lighter touch, along with a familiar opera score by Engelbert Humperdinck, a name that produced unsolicited spastic giggles from the appreciative crowd. Piper also adds a little known caveat that the rendition was initiated by the composer’s sister, Adelheid Wette, who wrote the libretto— another brother and sister working together, for a nice touch.
Piper is the complete show playing master of ceremony and manipulating the beautifully designed marionettes as master puppeteer. Although he’s visible while voicing all the characters, he seems to recede into the background as they display their own personalities and propel the action with imagination and care. The opening scene, for example, shows a conscientious Gretel trying to focus on her chores, while Hansel distracts her with a mind bent on fun. Before you know it, they’re singing and dancing a familiar folk rhyme, only to be caught by their nose–to-the grindstone Mother who admonishes them for being lazy and frivolous.
Without money or provisions, the brother and sister turn to the possibility of collecting wild strawberries on a forbidden hillside, so off they traipse to find nourishment.
The relationship between the two is endearing, and although they care for each other deeply, their squabbling (and Hansel’s lack of directions) gets them lost in the forest. Thanks to lighting design by Dan Brooks the siblings fall asleep under a canopy of twinkling stars in a velvety dark blue sky.
HANSEL AND GRETEL
Closes April 27, 2014
The Puppet Co
7300 MacArthur Blvd. Glen Echo
40 minutes with no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Yes, the inevitable witch plops in, loud enough to send little ones scurrying for cover. If that isn’t frightening enough, scary tree limbs move and trap Hansel as part of the witch’s spell. What’s poor Gretel to do, with Hansel immobilized in greenery while the witch tries to convince the girl to stick her head in the oven to test the temperature. Again, Brooks’s lighting hits the spot with a fiery ominous glow off-stage right, while the witch licks her chops in savory anticipation.
The Hansel and Gretel simple familiar story comes to life with the right artists involved. In addition to directing, Allan Stevens is the multifaceted designer for puppets, costumes and sets. This rendition blends classical music with enough modern touches to keep the story fresh and engaging. On top of all that, watching a master puppeteer orchestrate and portray so many characters within the rich storyline is a treat for the entire family.
Hansel and Gretel . Based on a folktale by the Brothers Grimm . Directed by Allan Stevens . Costumes and set: Allan Stevens . Produced by the Puppet Co . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.