The Puppet Co.’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’ leaves a trail of delights

Twists on a familiar fairy tale and skilled puppetry are perfect for young ones.

As a parent of a pre-schooler, I have been taking my child on a tour of “theater for young audiences” offerings around the DMV. There is no shortage of high-quality theater offerings for children in the region — and the Puppet Co. continues to be requested by my little one.

This retelling of Hansel and Gretel is steeped in the classic German fairy tale — complete with over-the-top German accents and references to German treats — but with some updates that are a bit more palatable for a younger audience. Len, Patricia, and Christopher Piper’s version (with edits by Elizabeth Dapo and Danny Pushkin) was originally performed at the Puppet Co. in 2014, but returns as one of the Puppet Co.’s Legacy Productions, bringing favorites from the past back to the Mainstage season.

Lee Gerstenhaber as Hansel and Mollie Greenberg as Gretel in ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ Photo by Maggie Rocha.

Hansel neglects chores and causes mischief at home, while pragmatist Gretel attempts to convince Hansel to pick up the slack. After Hansel spills the family’s milk (a special treat), the pair propose going to the woods to pick strawberries. When the children’s mother lets the father know of this plan, he reveals knowledge of a child-stealing witch in the forest, so the parents speedily depart to follow the children. The kids, of course, get lost in the woods, with a brief passing mention of the trail of breadcrumbs Hansel left along the way.

After a night of sleeping in the forest (with the help of the visiting singing Sandman), the children wake to discover the mysterious appearance of a gingerbread-and-candy house. After hungrily devouring parts of the house, the house’s owner (the aforementioned witch, of course) arrives to capture the children and plans to bake them into gingerbread. As Hansel is held captive under the witch’s spell, Gretel’s quick wit allows the tots to best the witch, tossing her into the oven and turning her to gingerbread instead. (The gingerbread witch was hit with the kids in the audience).

The set (designed by Christopher Piper) mimics what one may think of when creating a traditional puppet show, with a small enclosed space for the marionettes to explore and multiple painted backdrops to change the setting. The lighting (also by Piper) helped to further differentiate the locations and set the mood, especially in the more ominous moments (my kid particularly loved the star drop).

Mollie Greenberg as Gretel and Lee Gerstenhaber as Witch and Hansel in ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ Photo by Maggie Rocha.

Performers Lee Gerstenhaber and Mollie Greenberg are perched above to control the marionettes and perform the skillful voice acting required to jump from character to character. The work juggling the multiple puppets and portraying many characters’ voices was quite impressive. At times, one performer may be controlling two puppets while providing the voice for a puppet controlled by their counterpart. While my daughter was awed at the cool marionettes, I was transfixed on watching the deft handiwork and acting chops of the two actors, marveling at the choreographed dance of transferring puppets and weaving around each other.

The puppets themselves were beautifully made, and I can see why the Puppet Co. would want to revive this production and showcase the craftsmanship put into these marionettes.

The music was cute and engaging — I only wish there was more of it! A few moments of silence, especially when related to some minor technical hiccups in adjusting the set, could have benefitted from musical coverage and fuller orchestration.

Overall, the Puppet Co’s Hansel and Gretel is a great afternoon for families with young ones. My 4-year-old tends to find a lot of movies and media “too scary” and found this kid-friendly retelling to have a few moments of “fun-scary,” but mostly “fun.”

Running Time: Approximately 45 minutes.

Hansel and Gretel plays through February 18, 2024, at the Puppet Co. in Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, MD. For the performance schedule and tickets ($15), click here.

Recommended for ages 4+.

COVID Safety: Masks are strongly encouraged for all patrons age 2 and older.

Hansel and Gretel
Original Script by Len, Patricia, and Christopher Piper
Script Edits by Elizabeth Dapo and Danny Pushkin
Directed by Danny Pushkin

Lee Gerstenhaber as Hansel and others
Mollie Greenberg as Gretel and others
Understudy: Ingrid Bork

Sets by Christopher Piper
Puppets by Christopher Piper
Sound Design by Elizabeth Dapo
Lighting Design by Elizabeth Dapo
Puppet and Set Maintenance: Elizabeth Dapo, Andrea “Dre” Moore


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here