The Siblings: Good and Grimm
It's festival time in New York City and the Midtown International Theatre Festival is kicking it off with a bang. The Rabbit Hole Ensemble presents The Siblings, a twisted and transcendental adaptation of Hansel and Gretel that follows the classic Grimm model that not all fairytales have happy endings.
In The Siblings, Hansel and Gretel and their parents are the only living people left in a cold land with very little food. They follow the voice "Him," an unidentified God-like figure who speaks to the family through their dreams. Attracted by the direction the voice of Him bluntly delivers in an otherwise absent world, the entire family obediently follows all His orders until the mother (Kathryn Velvel Jones) receives an order to kill the children and eat them in order to live prosperously and harvest fruitful crops. Although the father (Arthur Aulisi) is at first hesitant to follow the command, his wife persuades him with her guilt free conscious to follow the order because that's what He wants them to do. She supports her argument by saying that He has never been wrong before, so why would He lead them astray now? Hansel and Gretel (Paul Daily and Amanda Broomell) quickly become suspicious of their parents' actions and flee into the woods in search of food and safety.
The Siblings intelligently uses the solid storyline of Hansel and Gretel and adds some real "animalistic" twists along the way. Audiences walk into the theater with a loose idea of what the play will be about, but are required to put the pieces together at the beginning of the performance to see how all the new components fit together with the classic story. The constant reference to "Him" and the extremely rigid family who prides themselves on their obedience and ability to not curse, leaves audiences guessing what direction the play will take. What's interesting to note is that today's mainstream society is familiar with the basics of Mormonism through the likes of the highly publicized Elizabeth Smart story, HBO's "Big Love" and John Krakauer's book, "Under the Banner of Heaven." Each family member family portrayed in The Siblings is capable to receive direct revelations from God. Hansel and Gretel even ponder the idea of incestuous relations in order to re-populate the world. It's not a stretch to consider that this darker version of Hansel and Gretel was created with a direct reflection of America's current fascination with the overall fundamental Mormon religion and culture.
Whether or not there are Mormon undertones in The Siblings however is unimportant. Instead, a noteworthy performance resonated from all cast members, especially Amanda Broomell's portrayal of Gretel with her big eyes that effortlessly expressed the fear she and her brother encountered. The simplistic set and minimal props, so characteristic of festivals, demands audiences' attention and easily hooks them in with the gruesome, yet intriguing storyline peppered along the way with dark humor – in my opinion the best kind of comic relief out there. The Siblings writer and director, Edward Elefterion, does a wonderful job of combining old with new and was masterfully able to elicit true emotion and fear from his cast to create an endearing story against nothing but a black back drop. Elefterion's minimalist approach helps create more of an "eerie" atmosphere, with the nothingness of the stage playing intelligently into the storyline of being alone. His directorial style is executed seamlessly, a true credit to the philosophy behind the Rabbit Hole Ensemble.
Performances of The Siblings are limited now through August 6 at the Mainstage Theater at 312 West 36th Street. Tickets may be purchased at www.smarttix.com. For more information, visit www.rabbitholeensemble.com