There’s an intimacy of Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s performance space at the Highland Community Center that lets the audience sit a few feet from the actors on stage. When it’s children that sit in those seats, as they did at the Dec. 7 opening of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, they were able to get up close and personal with an imaginative and fun production.
This is the fifth time that the MJTC has put on the show based on the book by Eric A. Kimmel and directed by Shelli Place. The show opened a couple minutes prior to the ticket time, as the four townspeople (played by Neal Beckman, Kim Kivens, Julie Ann Nevill and Joe Wiener), came on stage and began setting up their props, asking stage manager Matthew Meeks to test out sound effects and lighting, and even getting the input from the audience to bump up some of the lightning sound effects late in the show.
Artistic Director Barbara Brooks said that she wrote that new open for the show as a way to make theater feel more accessible to the children – and it was successful. The classes that walked over from a nearby elementary school were instantly engaged.
Once the show starts, the audience becomes members of Helmsbergville, the Eastern European village where the Hanukkah goblins inhabit the synagogue and prevent the townspeople from celebrating the holiday. The actors – the four townspeople and Hershel of Ostropol (played by Charles Numrich) rely on the audience to play a part to keep the show moving. To the credit of the audience on opening morning, the feedback from a crowd of children didn’t hold up the show at all.
The show clocks in at just over an hour and moves along at a good clip, although it feels like it drags a bit where Hershel interacts with the goblins, which are beautiful puppets designed by Ivey Award-winner Chris Griffith. But what helps is how well the actors who play the townspeople use the goblin puppets. It adds a layer of physical comedy to the well-delivered script.
Overall, the show is really a winner. It’s fun and funny, with even the occasional pun that flew over an elementary schoolers head. But at the end of the day, you get accessible entertainment that embraces the miracle of Hanukkah.
Performances: Sundays, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. (Dec. 17 only), Monday-Friday, 9:45* and 11:45* a.m.
*Limited availabiity, please call in advance. For school group opportunities, please contact the box office at 651-647-4315.
All performances held at the Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Parkway, St. Paul, MN 55116. The theater is fully accessible.
To order tickets, call the Box Office at 651-647-4315 or contact www.mnjewishtheatre.org