In the Moonlight Troupers' version of "Hansel and Gretel," in production at Anne Arundel Community College, the brothers Grimm are not very grim at all.
The wicked stepmother has been replaced by a loving mother who is merely under the witch's hypnotic spell. The opening scene has the requisite dark woods with spooky mist and flashes of lightning, but it is made less menacing by a pair of human-sized characters -- a gnome and a bird.
And the actors have added their own child-centered twists to this William Glennon adaptation of the story of two children tricked into a wicked witch's house after they become lost in the woods.
Before the curtain goes up, cast members circulate through the audience, in character, introducing themselves to the children and asking plot-related questions: "Do you live in the woods?" "Do you want to be a woodcutter when you grow up?"
While that's going on, the witch darts out on stage occasionally, eliciting shouts from the children. Pretending not to have seen the witch, the actors suggest the children have imagined her, so they are well-primed when the play begins.
The witch, who lures Hansel and Gretel to her gingerbread house to toss them into the oven, is the star, and she is played with comic flair by Leslie Rauch, a theater student at the school. All the roles except the bird and gnome are played well by AACC theater students, under the direction of Robert Kauffman, head of the department.
Todd C. Withey's openness and charm make him a perfect Hansel, and Kathleen Pensy is equally convincing as Gretel. Aaron A. Manfra and Cynthia Chadwick are believable parents.
Nancy Long, who works in the school's writing lab, plays the bird with sweet gentleness, and Douglas Kotula, a drama teacher at Severna Park High School, is a fine gnome. He is remarkably skilled at assuming freeze-frame stillness when needed.
The costumes designed by Nicole Crawford have an authenticity. Most impressive is puppet designer Joy Ajello's work on the gnome, which was inspired by costumes in the "Lion King" playing on Broadway. Set and lighting designer Peter Kaiser deserves praise for the forest's dark recesses, as does the construction crew for creating the marvelous gingerbread witch's house.
The only disappointment I felt was at the half-empty house. This show deserves a larger audience.
The Moonlight Troupers' version of "Hansel and Gretel" plays tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday.
Pub Date: 4/23/98