Review: The Crumb Trail

Pan Pan Theatre brings us the horror of Hansel & Gretel

By Alexis Rehrmann September 12, 2009

You know what’s grim?

German f-ing fairy tales.

Those Brothers Grimm were, oh well. Well named I guess.

I saw The Crumb Trail last night. The multimedia retelling of Hansel & Gretel was brought the TBA by an extremely stellar Irish company, Pan Pan Theater. To those of you that also saw this, I would be really interested to hear your thoughts. How did you feel? What did you walk away with?

The acting was terrific—hugely proficient craftsmen (and woman) able to rise effortlessly to the challenge of a huge range of material: singing, slapstick, butoh, hamlet, storytelling, mask work, scene work, childlike wonder, adult desire, kindness & cruelty… all sorts of stuff between.

The use of multimedia was applied with similar skill: live video, YouTube clips, mixed with low-tech projections of supertitles and overhead projectors, all mechanical elements visible onstage on long work tables. These elements of experimental theater have become the avant garde equivalent of the repertory’s proscenium and fourth wall.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Pan Pan uses their technical elements, including a breadmaker in which a loaf of bread is baked over the course of the play to brisk effect.

There is a visual wit to the show that made me laugh out loud several times. "The Hanging" is announced as a projected supertitle, and the actors enter and jump up to grab and hang on a bar over the stage. There is a burning suit, a cheap suit jacket on a hanger, hung from that the same bar, that’s lightly smoking.

But what I really walked out of the theater feeling, was the horror of the Hansel & Gretel. It’s a breathtakingly awful tale: a family in a small town is starving; the parents abandon their children in the nearby woods—out of selfless or selfish desperation, we don’t know.

The children find shelter with a crone who fattens them up, favoring the boy, and mistreating the girl. The siblings escape after the child, Gretel, murders the old woman. They flee the house while the crones screams from the oven go unanswered.

See, that’s a horrible story, isn’t it?

The Crumb Trail pulls on these myth strands to ask brutal questions about rivalry and sexuality in siblings, loyalty and love in parents, death, abuse, loneliness & lostness, and disappearing.

Am I being overly sensitive? Reading this wrong? Did someone else have a totally different take? Let me know what you thought, eh?

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