We live at a time of disposable things, and sometimes people, so it is nice to be reminded of human productivity and value.
Aged Bubba Brayna makes tasty potato latkes that are so aromatic that they draw people to her door from all over the shtetl in “The Chanukah Guest.”
The dish also entices a comical bear out of his winter slumber, and when he knocks on Bubba Brayna’s door, the old lady welcomes the creature, thinking it is the rabbi that she has been expecting (she’s half blind and hard of hearing). Her ursine guest does not attack her. He simply enjoys his confused host’s latkes, even as we get a lesson in the meaning of the holiday season’s most important celebrations.
Bubba Brayna (Joanna Harmon) is the center of “Guest,” Jenna Zark’s adaptation of Eric Kimmel’s 1992 children’s book. The story comes to life in three cute dimensions at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, where it is having its premiere. It is best enjoyed with wee ones; I watched a school matinee.
Second-grader Sarae Sheppard said she was taken with the bear.
“I liked how he ate the latkes,” she said. “And when he spilled something on the floor, that was fun.”
Some of her classmates nodded, offering testimonials about their favorite parts of the simple production directed by Candace Barrett Birk on a peasant set designed by Kirby Moore and lit warmly by Paul Epton.
There is entertainment in this audience-interactive show that includes dancing to “The Dreidel Song.” But the primary purpose of “Guest,” as is often the case with holiday shows, is to educate audiences.
We learn about the meaning of the oil that is used to fry the latkes (in the holiday’s tradition, enough oil for only one day lasts, miraculously, for eight). We learn about community and keeping of knowledge and custom.
Harmon brings warmth, wisdom and kindness to her stooped-over grandmother, even as her fresh face does not convey the many years that Bubba Brayna has walked the earth.
Skyler Nowinski, who plays the bear in furry, paw-ful costume, gives this character as much expression as can be gotten from grunts and nods. The creature has some funny moments, but the humor potential of this cartoon character could be maximized.
The production, which also includes James Pratt as Bubba’s visiting grandson, is a small but important one during this time of spiritual and cultural reflection.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390