Presented by imaginary beasts
Written & directed by Matthew Woods
Additional text by the Ensemble: Laura Detwiler, Lauren Foster, Colin McIntire, Amy Meyer, Bob Mussett, Kiki Samko, Jamie Semel, Sivan Spector, Jennifer Taschereau, Matthew Woods
Puppets designed by Elizabeth Owens & Jill Rogati
Review by Kitty Drexel
Charlestown, MA — The run of Winter Panto 2020: Hansel & Gretel by imaginary beasts ended on March 1. You are out of luck if you are reading this review now. It was wonderful! The cast’s acting talents were in excellent form because the script was chock full of boisterous puns and pop culture references. Scenery chewing extended to the audience just a little bit so as to rope all comers into the play’s antics. Best of all, the audience was game to interact with the show for the duration of the took the two-and-a-half-hour performance. If you watch the beastie website, you can catch them next year.
Hansel & Gretel is loosely based on the traditional German fairytale about two siblings abandoned to the woods to discover an evil witch who eats naughty children. In the imaginary beasts production, Hansel (Laura Detwiler) and Gretel (Bob Mussett) remain two rambunctious children but everything else about the story is changed. Their papa, Engelbert Besenmacher (Jamie Semel) is forced to pay an extra day’s rent to the evil Baron von Wurstwurst (Matthew Woods) or work for free in the baron’s sausage factory.
Hansel and Gretel make it to the woods but are trapped by Goody Gumdrops (Kiki Samko). They are freed with the assistance of Pfeffernusse (Jen Taschereau), Meyer the Mushroom (Amy Meyer), and the Hinkypink (Rebecca Lehrhoff). They are returned to Besenmacher and local schoolteacher Fraulein Morgenstern (Lauren Foster) to live happily ever after. Sivan Spector and Colin McIntire round out the cast as kidnapping grunts Pumpernickel and Rye.
The German language is sprinkled throughout the production in words and phrases to resemble a bastardized English-German pidgin. Their accents were terrible but their pronunciation was good.
The costumes by Cotton Talbot-Minkin were gorgeous! The fabric used to create Morgenstern’s frock were could also be found on the Sandman’s coat. The Sandman was played by Semel who also played Besenmacher, Morgenstern’s love interest. It was a subtle character tie-in. The Meyer’s human costume was replicated exactly on the Meyer mushroom puppet. Carlotta “Cookie!” Crumble was a child-safe Trixie Mattel: fully covered but still dangerous. Baron von Wurstwurst looked like a period piece Jeff Bezos. The privilege and arrogance rolled off of him in stanky waves.
My paternal grandmother’s name is Gretel. She was a woman who took me on many exciting adventures although not nearly as exciting as a fairytale’s. She passed on years ago and I miss her very much. This panto reminded me of her and her headstrong ways. Thank you for that.
I look forward to the imaginary beasts’ panto every year. Sitting in the audience of kids, adults and theatre community members who exist somewhere in between means that I’m prepared to play by the panto’s rules: be kind to the performers who are doing their absolute best, respectfully play along with them if they ask it of you, and always respect their boundaries. Humans not yet ready to respect these rules should kindly stay home. Or, as my Grandma Gretel used to say, “laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and I will find the person who hurt you and give them a reason to cry.”