The Puppet Co. presents a kinder version of the childhood classic Hansel and Gretel. Inspired by Engelbert Humperdinck’s operatic version Hänsel und Gretel, instead of the wider-known version by the Brothers Grimm, and adapted for puppetry by Len, Pat, and Christopher Piper, this production trades out the murderous stepmother for a gentler one, and includes an array of playful songs and compositions.
Performer Christopher Piper stands on a platform behind the set so that he may work the marionettes from above. The set, designed by Director Allan Stevens, is built on a smaller scale, with different painted backdrops to depict settings like a simple cottage, dense forests, and an iced gingerbread house. Lighting by Dan Stevens sets the tones, particularly using creative shadow work to give the forest an ominous feel. The technical aspects of this show are professional and impressive, but the real attraction to see at this production are the marionettes, also designed by Stevens. After seeing countless shows at The Puppet Co. over the years, I have begun to recognize Stevens unique puppetry designs, particularly in their heavily-lidded eyes and delicate limbs. The Puppet Co. uses a wide variety of puppets and designers in their productions, and while they’re all lovely, Stevens’ marionettes are by far my favorite.
As interesting as the beautiful puppets themselves (if not more so) is watching performer Christopher Piper manipulate them, sometimes controlling up to three at once. Piper also performs all the vocal characterizations, lending a uniqueness to every character (watch out for some playful German accents in this show!. How he manages to juggle all of these responsibilities at once, I’ll never know, but it is always impressive to watch someone who has mastered their craft.
Set in Germany, the mischievous Hansel always manages to get him and his cautious sister into trouble, and this time they are being admonished by their mother for dancing and singing instead of doing their chores (the handiwork involving two dancing marionettes here is particularly enjoyable to watch). Sent out to gather some strawberries, the siblings get woefully lost and drift off to sleep after a visit from the Sand Man (a neat, new little plot divergence). When they awake, they find themselves enticed by a thickly iced gingerbread house covered in gumdrops…and a witch with a sinister plot living within.
We all know how this classic story unfolds, but The Puppet Co. has added a few clever tweaks into the mix to make it their own (wait till you see what becomes of the witch!) The Puppet Co. also utilizes some intense special effects for this particular show, making it ideal for children over the age of five, but perhaps not younger.
I always have a good time at The Puppet Co., and this visit was no exception. Treat your kids and yourself to a showing of Hansel and Gretel! You’ll have a great time!
Running Time: Approximately 45 minutes, without an intermission.
Hansel and Gretel plays through April 27, 2014 at The Puppet Co. — 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo Park, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call (301) 634-5380 or purchase them online.