For those who have not cultivated an appreciation for the theatrical craft and are unaware of the merits and delights to be derived from the stage, there are certain theaters in Los Angeles that I always try to persuade them to attend. Theaters whose productions can sometimes allow the novice to experience the wonders illuminated from the stuff of magic and imagination which makes for theatre at its best and in which the world will be molded anew for them, and they for the world.
The Actor’s Gang
Rogue Machine Theatre
the Echo Theater Company
Antaeus Theatre Company
The Fountain Theatre
the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Coeurage Theatre Company
Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group
and the 24th Street Theatre.
Each group has its own strength and forte which could be summed up in single terms: Boldness for The Actor’s Gang, Feral for Zombie Joe’s, Elegance for the Antaeus and for the 24th Street Theatre – Poetic.
Their past production, Walking the Tightrope, Man Covets Bird, were restatements of magic realism, not merely spoke in the language of poetry, but presented in a visually poetic way as well.
Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass, while not as singular a work as the two aforementioned, is still in that vein.
By focusing his retelling of the story on the siblings, playwright Bryan Davidson has returned to the core of the ancient fairy tale, which was once known as Little Brother and Little Sister.
Bruno Bettelheim in his classic study of Fairy Tales (The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales) argues that one of the motivations behind their narratives was to assist children in achieving a “higher humanity” by displaying the pitfalls of our obsessions and the shallowness of senses.
Davidson does this nicely in his tale by imposing on each of his siblings obsessions that has touch most of us.
Abandoned in the forest by a father who can no longer care for them, Hansel (Caleb Foote) is driven by the last instruction from his dad, which is to keep his little sister safe. All the while Gretel (Angela Giarratana) remains in denial over their mother’s recent death.
As fairy tales try to show us, it’s our obsessions that blind us to what’s authentic in life and true about ourselves, and the unreal realities that they cling to keep Hansel and Gretel in constant conflict as they try to survive in the wildness about them.
“What are you good for?” they each demand of the other.
Set in the hill country of Eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression, the trap is not a gingerbread house, but one with a well stocked pantry.
Sarah Zinsser is a blind recluse with a hint of Polyphemus and a shade of the Seventh Seal who is less interested in eating Gretel’s flesh than consuming the music in her soul.
Serving as our Brother Grimm via projected video segments is Bradley Whitford, of West Wing renown, as a hooch guzzling back county radio host.
The cast of the show works well together and are almost enough to hide the thinness of the show itself, which feels less substantial than what this company usually delivers on.
For one thing with the title Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass, one is lead to expect that music will have a solid presence in the show. Like Whitford, the music, performed by The Get Down Boys, is also presented via video clips, but is less than memorable.
Matthew G. Hill (video design), who impressed us with his work on past productions like Walking the Tightrope, shows us the skill of his craft here, but not the force of his art. And too, his take on the foreboding wilderness that has engulfed the brother and his sister seems mild when compared to that of Lorenzo Mattotti in his illustrated collaboration, of the same tale, with author Neil Gaiman.
Director Debbie Devine, who also helmed Walking the Tightrope one of the most memorable shows of recent years, has done solid work here. Still the project feels less than it should and leaves the audience, while entertained by what there was, expecting more.
Not to say this production is without merit, for it is certainly not. One can see a good deal of thought went into it; the problem is one doesn’t sense that ‘thought” was blended along with a good deal of passion.
Alas, due to their past productions, the 24th Street Theatre has set the bar very high for themselves.
The world premiere of Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass
Runs Saturday and Sundays and has been extended through March 26
(NOTE: the theatre is dark Dec. 18, 25; Jan. 1, 8, 10; and Feb. 5)
Written by Bryan Davidson
Directed by Debbie Devine
Featuring the music of The Get Down Boys
Bradley Whitford as the narrator (on video),
Caleb Foote as Hansel
Angela Giarratana as Gretel
Sarah Zinsser as the Mountain Woman
For Tickets and Additional Information Phone:
(213) 745-6516 or go to www.24thstreet.org