Jew Review: ‘The Chanukah Guest’

We own The Chanukah Guest, the Eric A. Kimmel book that playwright Jenna Zark based the show currently running at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, but I have never been to the staged production before. The Chanukah Guest made its premiere at MJTC in 2014 and I can see why it’s become a favorite holiday show for MJTC.

Sunday I had the pleasure of taking my daughters (ages 11 and 8) to the opening performance of the run. Most of the live theatre my children have seen has been in bigger theatre spaces, and it was great fun to listen to them ‘ohh and ahh’ over the set, props, and lighting instruments in the intimate space. Familiar with the book, they enjoyed pointing out props and costume pieces that they knew would be integral to the story. Kirby Moore’s warm and colorful set design gave us plenty to discuss while waiting for the show to begin.

The show starts with an interactive pre-show that was delightfully age-appropriate for young viewers who might be newer to live theatre. Not to mention a fun way to highlight some of the less obvious but important roles of a theatre production: sound and light design and the ever important stage manager!

Audience participation continues throughout the show at a wonderful pace, mixing music and fun within the original story. Kim Kivens did a lovely job as Bubba Brayna, the most-spritely 85-year old I’ve ever seen. She’s joined on stage by Bradley Hildebrandt, the nicest and hungriest bear around. Hildebrandt kept the children squealing with delight. Highlights included his table manners (or lack thereof) and dancing skills. The actor I had the most familiarity with is the young Josh Bagley, a 7th grader at Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School in St. Louis Park whom I’ve seen a few times onstage with the Sabes JCC Youth Performance Program. Bagley and Kivens have a sweet chemistry on stage playing grandmother and grandson. I particularly liked the ritual they have around making each other promises. Whether it’s in the script or something created in the rehearsal process, it was the kind of intentional detail that made this show as enjoyable for the adults in the audience as well the under 10 crowd.

After the performance ended, the cast waited patiently in the hall to take pictures with eager youngsters, my 8-year-old included. She continued to talk about the show for the rest of the day. At an hour long, this show is a great way to spend time with those in your life who are young at heart, regardless of their age.

The Chanukah Guest plays now through December 18th at the Hillcrest Community Center in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. There is a new performance added for 3 p.m. Dec. 9. Tickets are available online.