You don't have to be Jewish to like the Yiddish Arts Ensemble's musical version of Eric Kimmel's children's story. Even a second-generation lapsed Irish-Catholic boy like me can appreciate the wit, craft, and wisdom that goes into this troupe's productions: the energetic, playful acting, Lynn Shapiro's fine adaptations of Yiddish folk classics, and best of all the music, provided by the always excellent Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, directed by Lori Lippitz. Three years ago, when I caught their version of Isaac B. Singer's children's story Mazel and Shlimazel, I was especially impressed by the way the actors told Singer's admittedly silly story--about one very lucky man and one amazingly unlucky one--without talking down to their young audience. But the actors in that show couldn't hold a candle to the cast for the current production. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is based on the story of the Yiddish folk hero Hershel of Ostropol, a Paul Bunyan of the mind who outwits four goblins who intend to disrupt the Hanukkah celebrations. Though the show is clearly geared to youngsters, Shapiro and company make sure there's plenty for adults too: Bernard Beck's multilayered performance as Hershel, the comical Rocky and Bullwinkle voices of the Goblins, and the liberal use of wild violins and melancholy clarinets throughout, which livens up even the more predictable sections of the story. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington (second floor), Chicago, 312-744-6630. Monday, December 22, 12:15 PM. Free. Then at the Northwest Suburban Jewish Community Center, 1250 Radcliffe, Buffalo Grove, 847-392-7411. Wednesday, December 24, 7 PM. $10 (includes refreshments and a Hanukkah gift for each child). (The ensembles also perform a one-hour cabaret of Jewish music and comedy, Taste the Soup, at Beth Hillel Congregation, 3220 Big Tree Lane, Wilmette, 847-256-0755. Thursday, December 25, 3 PM. $8.50 in advance, $10 at the door; $5 for children.)
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): theater still by Susan Varick.