This just in: Christmas is not the only game in town in December.
Amphibian Stage Productions wants to remind us that the Jewish holiday Hanukkah is also being celebrated at this time of year when most of us are putting up trees, hanging lights and shopping like soldiers taking a hill. So Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, a children’s show adapted from Eric Kimmel’s book of the same title which opened last weekend, is here to put us in a dreidel spinning mood.
Hershel tells the tale of the title character, a folk hero also known as Hershel of Ostropol (Stan Graner), who visits a village during Hanukkah and is shocked to see that no one is celebrating the holiday known as the Festival of Lights. The villagers explain that they are unable to honor the event in their traditional way because a nasty band of goblins haunting their synagogue blow out the candles on their menorah whenever they try to light them. Hershel then bravely sets himself to the task of outwitting the goblins and saving the holiday.
Hershel is a slight entertainment, running only 40 minutes. But Amphibian artistic associate Scott Zenreich, who adapted the story and directs the production, crams a lot of creativity into its short timeframe. With the help of Graner, his fellow adult actors -- Justin Duncan, Josh Kumler, Kelsey Milbourn and Mitchell Stephens -- and William Bartell , as “the Boy,” who reads the story and provides us with an appropriate point-of-view, Zenreich turns a child’s bedroom into a magical place. It’s inhabited by all sorts of colorful people and menacing (but often humorously inept) spirits.
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He achieves this in a number of ways, including some attention-getting puppetry ranging from shadow puppets to a larger-than-life goblin on stilts, which are designed and directed by Kyle Igneczi. The show also makes good use of recorded and live music.
Zenreich has a great deal of experience with children’s theater, and that is apparent in how relentlessly busy and visually engaging this show is. For that reason, it is an especially good choice for very young children. One of the strengths of the piece is that it can serve to teach a child something about Hanukkah or, perhaps just as importantly, how to use the gift of imagination to enhance playtime every day of the year.