by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
gia on the move fairy tales hansel & gretal
Angela Giarratana and Caleb Foote in Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass
Photo by Cooper Bates

Immediacy.  That is the first thing you get with 24th Street Theatre’s world premiere adaptation Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass, written by Bryan Davidson and directed by Debbie Devine.

Most recognized as the classic Grimm fairy tale, the story may have originated in the medieval period of the Great Famine (1315–1321), which caused desperate people to abandon young children to fend for themselves, even resort to cannibalism. Set here in depression-era Kentucky in the Appalachian coal mining town of Butcher Holler, Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass moves in a sort of other worldly story-telling realm but also has the fascinating element of being historically real.

Narrated by a local radio jockey as an on-air response to a write-in letter from a young boy who shares his private angst about his baby sister in a time of desperate hunger, the production is paired down to a gorgeous simplicity that needs no deep diving for meaning or explanation.

Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass hones in on the difficulties siblings have in their relationships with one another but even more, the co-dependencies, the frailties, the strengths and the resiliency to overcome those difficulties and in this case, extreme circumstance within which the unlikely orphans find themselves. The story is profound and sincere.

Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass is executive director Jay McAdams’ response in part, to the wave of South American children who immigrated parent-less across the U.S. Border several years ago – some of whom landed in the local North University Park neighborhood. And although it does not specifically address that politic, the story offers hints of insight into the reasoning for child abandonment without curing or apologizing for the motives of letting children “into the wild” alone.

Performances by Angela Giarratana as Gretel and Caleb Foote as Hansel are endowed with a naievity that is absolutely darling. Sarah Zinsser as the mountain woman (witch) layers a downright menacing dimension. Bradley Whitford as radio announcer “The Duke” rounds out this production with hillbilly levity that is pure fun, captivating and compassionate. Whiteford’s voice resonates empathy far beyond the structure.

The characters that play the standout roles in this imaginatively amalgamated production are the video, set, sound, lighting, costume and music, arranged respectively by Mathhew G. Hill, Keith Mitchell, Chris Moscatiello, Dan Weingarten, Michael Mullen and Megan Swan, topped off by featured music by The Get Down Boys (Mark Cassidy-banjo, Scott Gates-mandolin, Israel Parker-dobro, Evan Winsor-bass).

Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass is possibly an even-better version than the original.

Now Playing until December 11, 2017.  Check the listing for more information.