By Jill Kyle-Keith
Can’t take another holiday outing to Scrooge and The Christmas Carol? The Puppet Co. of Glen Echo Park, one of the nation’s few children’s theaters devoted exclusively to professional puppet theater, has come up with a unique story this season aimed at audiences 5 and up: Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Based on the Caldicott Award–winning book of the same name by Eric Kimmel, with illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, the show features Hershel, a trickster of a dad who, to please his young son, outwits a group of grumpy yet goofy goblins.
It helps to know a bit about Hanukkah in advance; for those unfamiliar with the story of the holiday, there’s not much background given as to why candles are lit for eight successive nights. So be advised: it’s not a history lesson, just a fun romp with Hershel as he tricks a succession of larger and more ridiculous goblins.
And that’s as it should be, really — Hanukkah is, after all, a children’s celebration, with lots of candy, a little present each night, and the lights on the table.
At 60 minutes long, the show is certainly not for the teenyweenies, but parents and older kids will appreciate the well-made puppets, the extravagant set, and the live voices, which is a refreshing change of pace from all things canned and Disneylike these days. Puppeteers Ingrid Bork, Lee Gerstenhaber, Mollie Greenberg, Morgana Schurimann, and Danny Pushkin are lively performers who seamlessly depict an often dizzying variety of characters.
Due to a late scheduling change by the Puppet Co., this reviewer saw what turned out to be an invited dress rehearsal, not a show with an audience as expected, so it’s a bit hard to tell what will work with the kids and what won’t. Yet it must be mentioned that one of the goblins takes the form of Hershel’s late father — a dark turn that doesn’t at all jibe with the lighthearted vibe of the rest of the show.
There are some notable highlights in the show — the goblins are a visual treat, with one rising up out of a cloud of smoke, wearing enough bling to rival Cardi B, another one who is too dim to get his hand out of a pickle jar, and my favorite, a half-goblin who becomes whole. Not to worry, nobody’s scary in the least, particularly the first goblin who looks like a cross between a 1980s movie Gremlin and a wild-eyed green bat. That guy does a great slapstick slam against the back curtain when he’s defeated — and trust me, the kids will love that bit. And grownups will love the little rat who mumbles out insults in pseudo-Yiddish when disturbed by Hershel.
Director Toni Goldberg and playwright Steven Laughton do a good job bringing Hershel and his goblins to life, and The Puppet Co. is to be commended for bringing us a different option this holiday season.
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Recommended for ages 5+.
COVID Safety: Masks are strongly encouraged for all patrons age 2 and older. Masks are required the week of December 14–17.
Jill Kyle-Keith, age unknown, is the longtime owner and Queen of Beale Street Puppets in Baltimore, Maryland. Bravely hanging on to the idea that vaudeville will someday return and this Internet thing is just a fad, she has foolishly made her living in live entertainment for over 30 years. The end result is that she has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of live shows over the years and now feels qualified to offer her unasked-for opinions to an unsuspecting public.
And oh yeah, she has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and the DC Fringe in years past, and was awarded a “Best of Fringe” by The Scotsman newspaper and a distressingly bad review by some loser online for the DC show, which was gleefully posted by her on the theater door and resulted in all remaining shows selling out. Moral is: sure, good reviews are nice, but bad reviews are catnip to the curious.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
Script by Stephen Laughton
Original book written by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Directed by Toni Goldberg
Starring Lee Gerstenhaber, Mollie Greenberg, Danny Pushkin, and Ingrid Rekedal with understudy Morgana Schurimann
The Puppet Co. tells a sweet and deep tale in ‘Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins’ (review of the production last year by Debbie Minter Jackson, December 6, 2022)