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One Grimm Hansel

It is one of the most famous fairy tale stories of them all, and also potentially one of the scariest - a tale to put the “Grim” in Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

A tricky feat to pull off, but the Puppet Co down at Glen Echo takes the well known of “Hansel and Gretel” and makes it family friendly offering without lowering the stakes too much.  They are helped by, of all things, the world of grand opera and a version of this story by the one hit wonder composer with the unique name of Englebert Humperdink.

Not that Englebert Humperdink – not the Tom Jones rip-off from the sixties with hits like “After the Loving.”  That would be scary – no this was an early twentieth century composer who followed Wagner but went in a different direction, bringing in folk tunes into his deceptively simple stage works.  The Puppet Co follows this Humperdink’s approach to the familiar story and incorporates some of his music into the show’s soundtrack in the process.

The biggest change is to make the mother a much more sympathetic role.  In the original story, the mother/stepmother character is hardly a symbol of maternal love – in fact, it is her devious plan to get the kids lost in the woods and be rid of them.  Here, though she has a temper, she is a loving mother and the two children accidentally get lost in the woods while picking food for dinner.  

So mothers in the audience can relax.  However, the other aspects of this tale remain in place and it takes this simple story into darker terrain.  To the Puppet Co credit, they do not gloss over this fact.  Our young heroes are in real danger when they get lost in that forest, the lighting making this scene appropriately eerie, and when we finally encounter the witch, she is definitely a threat worth taking seriously.  

The 40 minute show is performed by one actor, and Christopher Piper does a great job changing voices and manipulating the multiple characters.  The set quickly changes from the inviting family hut to the gloomy forest where the trees take on ominous features.  A final set of changes gives us the witch’s house, so inviting at first and quickly turning so menacing.  But there are also lighter moments along the way – the visit from the Sandman and a mushroom that refuses to stay put.  There are some simple but imaginative effects at the end as the evil witch gets her just desserts (pun intended).

One wonders why a story like this is so popular a children’s story.  After all, the story is laced with themes of abandonment and danger.  That’s because the children, though they may seem a little immature at first, rely on their ingenuity and come out on top.  That is a common theme in so many children’s stories and one that is still relevant today.

 “Hansel and Gretel” continues at the Puppet Co. at Glen Echo through April 27.  For more information, call (301) 634-5380 or go to their website at http://www.thepuppetco.org/

3 stars

By David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

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