Review: “A Hansel and Gretel Christmas” at Manhattan Repertory Theatre

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Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Critic

When looking for events to do with your kids during the holiday season, a show you’ve just discovered based on a fairy tale that everyone knows is hardly something you could go wrong with. Just the title of the show itself – “A Hansel and Gretel Christmas” – conveys joy for the whole family. Furthermore, the fact that it’s produced by one of the more prolific and successful indie theatre companies of the past decade – “Friends Always Creating Theatre” aka FACT – would seemingly add to its promise. However, once you’re seated in the theater, you quickly realize how one creative decision involving one main character can easily ruin the whole show.

Written and directed by FACT co-founder Jack Dyville, the show seems to revolve less around the characters of Hansel and Gretel, and more around their evil stepmother (portrayed by Julia Genoveva), who in this show is a Latina woman with a loud, heavy and exaggerated accent, is considerably younger than her husband, and enjoys stealing from others. In other words, it plays into the notion that Hispanic people who are proud of their heritage are loud, greedy, mean-spirited and downright evil. The fact that it seems to perpetrate some of the worst stereotypes surrounding the Hispanic community – particularly Hispanic women – should make this show worthy of criticism. However, it only makes matters worse, considering that this is supposedly a show that is designed to be kid-friendly.

In a recent interview with ReviewFix.com, I noticed Mr. Dyville talked about how this show and its lead villain “spotlights the Latino community.” I’m not sure what he was thinking or what he meant when he said that, but telling your actress to strengthen her Spanish accent – as if that would make her seem more cruel and wicked – is a questionable creative decision, if not an outright ignorant one. If I weren’t there as a critic, I likely would have walked out midway through, and even writing about the show now makes my blood boil.

Then, there’s the rest of the show, which is mediocre at best. The costumes only barely convey a spirit of cheer, and most of the humor seems to fall flat with the audience. On the rare occasions where laughter could be heard in the audience, it seemed to be coming more from the adults rather than the kids. That shouldn’t be surprising, given much of the laugh lines seemed geared toward an older audience more likely to understand the references. Indeed, so much for a show for the whole family.

It’s not all bad, to be clear. In terms of the acting, Matthew Cohen (Hansel) and Brittany Church (Gretel) each delivered charming and enthusiastic performances that, in any other adaptation of this fairy tale classic, would have helped the show shine bright. Unfortunately, in an adaptation where a large chunk of the “humor” is reliant on a racially insensitive stereotype, their performances alone are not enough to save the production.

If Donald Trump were still an NYC resident, I’m sure this would be exactly the type of show that he’d love to take his grandchildren to. However, as far as I’m concerned, there’s very little to enjoy while sitting through this lackluster effort, even if you are someone who has a high tolerance for offensive caricatures. If you’re looking for something fun to do with the whole family this holiday season, you’re better off spending your money elsewhere.

 A HANSEL AND GRETEL CHRISTMAS

“A Hansel and Gretel Christmas” stars Julia Genoveva, Matthew Cohen, Brittany Church, Paul Fraccalvieri, Lynn Manuell, Brian Pelaccio, Gus Ferrari, and Charles Moran.

“A Hansel and Gretel Christmas” is written and directed by Jack Dyville, featuring

“A Hansel and Gretel Christmas” – presented by FACT – runs at Manhattan Repertory Theatre, located at 17 W 45th Street, New York, NY, on November 4th-December 16th. Run time is one hour without intermission.

For more information, please visit www.facttheatre.org.