Hanukkah shows are hard to find, relatively speaking, but there are two running locally right now: Grace and the Hanukkah Miracle with brand-new Chicago Immersive, and the return of Strawdog’s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, adapted by Michael Dailey from Eric A. Kimmel’s 1989 children’s book. Whereas Grace uses the story of Hanukkah and a missing menorah as an emblem of one family’s journey from pre-World War II Germany to America, Hershel draws upon traditional Jewish folklore—Hershel of Ostropol being a Jewish trickster who takes down the powerful with his wits.
The story is simple enough. Hershel must light the menorah every night during Hanukkah in an abandoned synagogue while fighting off the goblins who are determined, like a gaggle of Grinches, to keep Hanukkah from coming. In Lauren Katz’s staging, there’s not a lot of dramatic tension, even as the goblins grow larger every night. Jack Morsovillo’s Hershel is so self-assured (in an ingratiating way), and the goblins so inept, there’s no doubt of his ultimate success. Some bits go on too long (Hershel cheating a greedy goblin out of its gold by using a dreidel that essentially embodies “heads I win, tails you lose”), and the framing device (we’re supposedly seeing Hershel’s grandson and his traveling band of performers put on the story in return for food and lodging) feels hoary. But the enthusiastic ensemble interacts well with the younger audience members and Jacob Combs’s songs add a spritely touch. v