By Miles Hanson
Before Strawdog Theatre company’s adaption of “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” began, cast members mingled amongst the audience, crafting balloon animals for children, and even performing feats of acroyoga. The preshow set the mood for the tale, a comedic, light-hearted affair that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Written by Eric Kimmel in 1989, “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” tells the story of Hershel of Ostropol and his eight nights of trickery amongst a gang of Hanukkah-hating goblins. In his travels Hershel comes upon a town plagued by goblins preventing the town’s people from celebrating Hanukkah. In order to return Hanukkah to the town, Hershel must spend eight nights in an old synagogue and on the final night convince the goblin king to light all candles of the menorah himself. Kimmel’s storytelling paired with Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations, is a force powerful enough to instill anyone with the excitement of the holiday season and the wonderment of Hanukkah. Having read the book as a child, I was just as eager as the children in the audience to see Director Jacqueline Stone’s take on one of my favorite childhood memories.
As the lights dimmed and everyone took their seats, each of the cast members equipped themselves with various instruments including a clarinet, flute, guitar, and piano. The music, arranged by Rachel Hoovler and Jacob Combs, was simple yet effective in setting the mood for what would follow.
The set although small, is well-utilized, strewn with trunks, tables, and even a piano masked behind a cloth. Through the use of low lighting and various sound effects, audience members feel as if they are right there next to Hershel (Anderson Lawfer) as he comedically deceives the story’s antagonists.
Each night of storytelling in the play presents a goblin more entertaining than the last. The second goblin (Frank Gasparro) is especially convincing when Hershel persuades him to try a pickle. Upon sticking his hand in the jar he gets stuck and accuses Hershel of placing a spell on it. After the goblin submits, Hershel finally agrees to free him through the use of a magical word. It was here that he approached a young girl in the front row, asking her for the magical word, to which she responded “abracadabra.” Hershel asked the crowd to repeat the word in unison, “Abracadabra” we all yelled, and with that the goblin was free. Despite the dangers and uncertainty of crowd interaction, especially one full of children, Lawfer’s efforts paid off, further engaging the young audience members with the hopes that they would be called upon next.
Following the third goblin, I personally would have enjoyed seeing how Hershel’s interactions with the remaining goblins wittily played out, and given how well the other cast members executed their comedic and over-the-top roles as goblins. However, instead they were streamlined in a musical montage with the other cast members playing a tune as Hershel quickly dealt with the final two goblins. Obviously, the decision was made in order to keep the play within a reasonable time frame to try and keep the attention of a younger audience.
It was at the final reveal of the goblin king when the talent of the cast and crew gleamed. The lights were cut, sounds of thunder marked the approach of the goblin king. Children fled to the protection of their mother’s arms as the menacing voice of the creature filled the room. Through the effective use of light and sound cast members were able to incite fear amongst the audience.
Despite the small stage, and even smaller cast, the cast of “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” was able to successfully utilize what was available in order to create a show overflowing with comedy, wonderment, and fear. Through its beautiful set, engaging cast, and classic story, “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” has all the elements necessary to distract children from just how many days are left till the holiday season.