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Talespinner’s Children’s Theatre celebrates Chanukah with tradition infused work

Back in my younger days (oh so many years ago), I went on a religious quest in order to find a replacement for my childhood religion. One of the religions that I investigated was Judaism. I even briefly attended Temple on a couple of occasions. One of the things that impressed me immensely was the strong ties of family to tradition. It was evident in everything they did both during services and in their everyday lives.

So I was quite surprised and excited when I received an invitation from Les and Elana Hunter inviting me to review their play “A Light In The Night” that they had written and was being performed briefly at Talespinner’s Children’s Theatre. It is a work with heavy Jewish overtones with an emphasis on history and tradition. The work also has a bit of whimsy and fantasy that children would love. Dr. Les Hunter is an associate professor of English at Baldwin Wallace University and is the recipient of the 2019 Bechberger Award for Human Development. His wife, Elana is a counselor. Their play is a 45 minute adventure into Jewish tradition and family life.

It begins with Judy moving with her family to their new home and she is not happy about it at all. Although it is just across town she feels that she has been forced to abandon her friends, school and lifestyle. It is the first night of Chanukah and as the family sifts through the piles of freshly arrived boxes containing their possessions they find something important has been left behind at the old house. It is their Menorah that had been smuggled out of Europe as World War II was set to begin.

Judy tells her brother Lior (who is more interested in an electronic game) that she will be riding her bike back to the old homestead to retrieve this sacred relic. When she arrives at the old house she not only discover the Shammes (the candle used to light the others on the candelabra) but that he talks. He is all that is left of the elaborate candle stand as evil forces in the shape of the Greek Hellenistic King Antiochus has taken the rest of the Menorah as part of his persecution of the Jewish people of Judea and Samaria.

Shammes convinces Judy to travel back to ancient time using a split in the cosmos. When they arrive, Judy has been transformed into a hero of the Maccabees. She is unconvinced until Shammes tells her that without her help all of the Jewish traditions will be lost due to the total persecution of their race by Antiochus. Judy takes the mantel of responsibility and unites the forces as they win the day, gain back the temple while relighting the eternal flame, saving the cherished traditions and retrieving the Menorah.

The first thing you notice when entering the performing space at Stonehill Auditorium at the Beachwood Jewish Community Center is the wonderfully casual seating arrangement. Children are invited to lay down and snuggle on pillows that have been distributed on the floor in front of the audience seating.

There is also a projection of all of the dialogue. This is a blessing and a curse as while the actors tried their best, their dialogue did not always match the printed word. Quite a bit of Hebrew is used during the course of the play as well as traditional songs and dance. All of this is translated and explained to those not of the faith or too young to have yet learned. It was nice to see many members of the audience sing along with the various songs set in their native tongue.

As for audience reaction, the adults were spell bound while the children took interest sometimes singing, sometimes dancing but at all time enjoying the proceedings. This is a good show for the younger children of 5 to 8 years old. A bit more balance of action over dialogue would greatly help keep the attention of the youngsters. I was personally happy for the translations that great aided my understanding of what was going on.

While a bit lacking on the professional level, the show achieves what it set out to accomplish and that is to educate and entertain both those of the Jewish faith (young and old) plus any passerby who happens to wander in. Mazel tov!


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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