As a family sets up the menorah candles to celebrate Hanukkah, a youngster pleads for a bedtime story — he has no idea he will get the story of a lifetime. In true puppet fashion, the ordinary becomes extraordinary in the blink of an eye and twist of a wrist. Papa Hershel begins his tale nestled with his wife and child in their cozy bedroom, then crosses the stage to a whole new setting of dark houses. He explains there was a time when everyone was terrified of goblins who forbade them to light any candles. Hershel is determined to do whatever it takes to rectify the situation so that his family and community can enjoy and celebrate the holidays. He doesn’t hesitate when he learns he would have to do the near impossible — stay in the dark, forlorn temple on the hill for eight nights of Hanukkah, lighting the candles while fending off goblins that get progressively scarier each night!
Needless to say, the puppet-makers have a field day with the various puppet designs, from the silly green twisty one, to the garish hose-necked feathered creature, to a pop-up-headed one. Hershel finds a way to connect with each through wit, charm, and cunning tenacity, night after night, to allow him to light a candle. He even plays a dreidel game with one of them and sings the traditional songs with delight. Most touching was how Hershel convinced a half-formed monstrosity who was literally cut in half that if he believed in himself and cast off his insecurities, he could defy the curse, break the spell, and become whole again. As the goblin repeated the affirmation with conviction each time, poof, parts of his body reattached and he was able to escape to his own freedom.
The story dives into deeper emotional territory as Hershel is confronted with the later goblins, including when the image of his own father appears before him. Hershel has already proven he is physically strong, but getting through this challenge requires more than mere muscle. Does Hershel have the fortitude to tackle his own emotional issues? And survive when confronted by the ultimate — Queen of the Goblins? The script by Stephen Laughton provides endearing touches to help us root for Hershel while we recognize our own inner struggles. Quite an accomplishment for puppets!
Throughout the ordeals, his wife stands with steadfast conviction in the doorway (there’s even a snarky aside that she’s always in the doorway!) and sees the candles lit each night in the once-dark synagogue on the hill. While concerned for his safety, she finds comfort in the daily and nightly evidence that Hershel is there fighting for them all.
The lighting designers helped tell the precious story with amazing precision — the cottage to the left is brightly lit for the storytelling, the middle includes a media projection, then the doorway exit right glows ominously as goblins enter and exit with puffs of smoke for full effect. It was delightful.
There is simply nothing like the Puppet Co. in telling a story with full imagination and creativity. Even the audience seating lighting exuded a soothing blue with fun Hannukah trimmings along the walls. Every detail gets loving full attention in this sweet retelling of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins at the Puppet Co.
Running Time: Approximately 50 minutes.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins plays through January 1, 2023, Thursday through Sunday (times vary) presented by the Puppet Co. performing at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, MD. For information call 301.634.5380 or email Box.Office@thepuppetco.org Tickets are $15 per person and may be purchased online (under age 2 no ticket is required, but call the Box Office to reserve a free ticket).
Recommended ages 5+.
There will be a special performance at 7 pm on the first night of Hanukkah, December 18.
Also, attend during Hanukkah (December 18 to 26) to take home a special gift. For further information, contact the Puppet Co.
COVID Safety: All those over the age of 2 are required to mask inside at all times.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
Script by Stephen Laughton
Original book written by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Directed by Dillon Mitcham
Featuring: Mollie Greenberg, Kristina Hopkins, Danny Pushkin, Ingrid Redekal, and understudy Brigid Wallace