One of the grimmer fairy tales takes on heightened resonance in “Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass,” a haunting new play commissioned by 24th Street Theatre that directly links the horrors of child abandonment with dire poverty.
Bryan Davidson has updated the classic story by setting it in a Depression-era Appalachian mining region.
Bradley Whitford, in an imaginatively integrated video performance, appears as a radio broadcast host who provides a measure of cohesion and solace to a community left destitute by mine closures. Responding to a letter from one of his troubled listeners who sees no hope or value in the life of a baby sister, Whitford narrates — and at times interacts with — the fable of bickering adolescent siblings Hansel (Caleb Foote) and Gretel (Angela Giarratana).
Driven from their home to fend for themselves, the refugees find a seeming benefactor in the blind Mountain Woman (Sarah Zinsser) with uncanny sensory abilities. As their host’s sinister motives are revealed, Hansel and Gretel recognize they can be stronger together when they set aside their mutual animosity.
Masterful staging by 24th Street co-founder Debbie Devine situates the fine performances within a stunning visual tableau. Video by Matthew Hill incorporates Whitford’s narration, an evocative bluegrass score performed by the Get Down Boys, and animated sequences, while Keith Mitchell’s tunnel of concentric translucent Tyvek arches serves as the screen for projected forest, caves and creepy witch’s lair.
The play’s message about interdependence may seem simple enough, but this is no kiddie show. The siblings’ trials are a rite of passage to adulthood, one with intentional implicit relevance to today’s headlines about desperate parents in troubled regions trying to send their children out of harm’s way.
“Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass”
Where: 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles
When: 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; ends Dec. 11
Information: (213) 745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org
Running time: 1 hour
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