By ROB HUBBARD | Special to the Pioneer Press
PUBLISHED: December 5, 2021 at 9:12 a.m. | UPDATED: December 6, 2021 at 8:21 a.m.
What’s a festival of lights without lights? The Jewish holiday of Chanukah is rooted in the story of a lamp that burns for eight nights, so what happens when a power outage renders a Chanukah celebration lightless? And there’s not enough oil to fry latkes and doughnuts? And the stove is electric?
That’s the quandary in which young Max and her grandparents find themselves in “Chanukah in the Dark,” a new play geared toward young audiences that was commissioned and is being premiered by Six Points Theater, the former Minnesota
Jewish Theatre Company. While adult viewers might find the 50-minute show a little too light on substance, opening
night’s more youthful attendees seemed Sulia Rose Altenberg as Max, Ben Shaw as to really enjoy it. And its message of finding Sasha, David Coral as Grandpa and Sally the miraculous in the commonplace is Wingert as Grandma in “Chanukah in the always a welcome one. Dark.” Photo by Jennie Ward
Written by Hayley Finn with bouncy Tin Pan Alley-esque music by Adam Wernick, “Chanukah in the Dark” has an appropriately spontaneous feel for a play that’s basically about improvising when Plan A has gone out the window. Max benefits from having two good-natured, high-energy grandparents who are up for making a fun frolic of their predicament. As they await the arrival of her older sister — or brother, depending upon what performance you attend — the evening is given over to imagination and song.
Clockwise from top right: Ben Shaw as Sasha, Sally Wingert as Grandma, Sulia Rose Altenberg as Max and
David Coral as Grandpa in Six Points Theater’s “Chanukah in the Dark.” Photo by Jennie Ward
Granted, none of the show’s five songs may get you humming toward the exit, but they’re all given the full show-stopper sell job by Six Points’ savvy cast. They sing of the joys found in the foods they lack, such as doughnuts and latkes — complete with kitchen utensil percussion — as well as their plight and the insights it inspires. Whenever one of those insights arrives for Max, the tinkling of wind chimes joins the soundtrack.
Performed before a lovely Rick Polenek backdrop that suggests a menorah, the production has all the energy required to power a play about making it through a blackout. As middle schooler Max, Sulia Rose Altenberg offers a believable blend of swoon-ready tragedian and bright-eyed impressionable tween. Yes, Max is the theatrical sort, but she’s matched by Sally Wingert’s unceasingly enjoyable portrayal of a grandmother clearly renewed by her young visitor’s spirit. As the grandfather, David Coral is equally playful and brimming with optimism and affection.
On opening night, Laura Stearns stepped in for Ben Shaw, transforming Max’s older brother to an older sister. Faced with this challenge, Stearns actually felt like an ideal complement to the other three actors, bringing some calming naturalism to a family full of brassy, unbridled enthusiasm. Stearns never consulted the script in her back pocket, and her heartfelt expression of love for her younger sister proved just the tenderness the tale needed.
It’s tough to light a play about a blackout, but Todd M. Reemtsma pulls it off with admirable subtlety, and Anita Kelling deserves a nod for a sound design that may convince you that all four actors are actually tickling the onstage ivories, when it’s almost certainly a convincing recording of composer and music director Wernick coming from the piano.
“Chanukah in the Dark” won’t make you feel as if you’ve filled up on a feast of profundities, but it’s a sweet little show ideal for an intergenerational outing.
If you go
What: Six Points Theater’s “Chanukah in the Dark”
When: 1 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, 1 p.m. Dec. 12
Where: Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Parkway, St. Paul
Tickets: $24-$20, available at 651-647-4315 or sixpointstheater.org
Note: Some tickets for the general public may become available for weekday school group matinees.
Capsule: Geared toward young audiences, it’s a light, enjoyable tale of rolling with the unexpected.