In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published the classic tale about two children being abandoned by their parents in the woods. This month's updated 24th St. Theatre production of "Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass," under the direction of Debbie Devine, explores the modern-day relevance of this old story. In her director's note, Devine explains that parents trusting children to fend for themselves is still happening today, and can be seen in the "thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America being sent up alone to the U.S. on trains in hopes of a better life." 24th St. Theatre, which specializes in producing quality theatre geared towards kids, hopes that the children in the audience will "benefit from seeing other kids as empowered survivors."
"Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass" takes place in the mining town of Butcher Holler, Kentucky, during the Great Depression, where unemployment and hunger abound. The father of the title characters, a coal miner, has just received his pink slip, and can no longer support his two children. With the promise to take them to some kinfolk in the next county, he lures the children into the forest, and leaves them there to fend for themselves. Deep in the forest, they meet the Mountain Woman (Sarah Zinsser), who enchants them, making them see what they desire most. They seek refuge with her, but soon discover not everything is as it seems.
Caleb Foote and Angela Giarratana do a charming job capturing the youthfulness of Hansel and his younger sister Gretel. They manage the perfect balance of love and conflict found in many sibling relationships. Sarah Zinsser plays a sinister Mountain Woman, and is an absolute delight to watch. Joining the cast via video, is "The West Wing's" Bradley Whitford as The Duke—a radio show host who is recounting the story of "Hansel and Gretel" to one of his listeners. His clear and commanding voice guides the audience through the story, and effectively moves the story along,
The most fascinating aspect of this production is the innovative fusion of stage and screen. Video projections (Matthew G. Hill) are used to transition from scene to scene and set to set, smoothly and quickly. They transform the beautifully minimalistic set (Keith Mitchell), with the help of colorful lighting (Dan Weingarten), into various sets, including a graveyard, a forest, and the Mountain Woman's home. Interactions between the actors and the screen allow the actors to enter into the projected world around them. However, the projections, while creative, are sometimes obstructive, casting shadows over the actors' faces.
Helping the audience stay in the world of 1930s Eastern Kentucky is "The Get Down Boys," a Los Angeles-based bluegrass group, who fill the transitions with their toe-tapping music.
"Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass" will be playing until December 11th at the 24th St. Theatre, 1117 W 24th St, Los Angeles, CA 90007. For tickets, visitwww.24thstreet.org
Contact Staff Reporter Julia Stier here