Review: “Hanna and the Moonlit Dress,” created by Ronit Muszkatbilt and Yoav Gal

Case Watson as Hanna in her Moonlit Dress

Good Deeds Rewarded

This is a kind and loveable play with beautiful, gently interactive staging for 2–8-year olds, and it’s not just a play to watch. Children are encouraged to participate in the stagecraft by unknowingly creating key props — flowers and stars — with the actors before the show officially begins. Hint: Come a few minutes early for the best experience so that you can participate in the craft and the performance, too!

Adapting the Story of Hanna

Hanna’s story derives from the 1937 book, “Hanna’s Sabbath Dress,” by Itzhak Schweiger-Dmi’el, illustrated by Ora Eitan. According to the program notes, the original story was inspired by an act of kindness that Schweiger-Dmiel’s wife, also named Hanna, experienced in her childhood when she was rescued by the Russian army after a fall. In Schweiger-Dmi’el’s book, the young Hanna becomes the good-deed-doer, and a beautiful children’s story about helping others is born.

Yoav Gal (Music co-creator with Rafi Ben Moshe and Set and Costume Designer) and Ronit Muszkatblit (Director) have touchingly moved the book from the page to the stage in a childlike, yet highly sophisticated, production. They are ably supported by one-woman band, Emily Erickson (Musical Director) and Kryssy Wright (Lighting and Technical Designer). Projection effects, recalling Georges Méliès’ 1902 film, Le Voyage dans la Lune, are to be savored. The aerial set construction allows for simple set transitions by the actors, and the production is ably managed by Stage Manager Brianna Poh. Uri Sharlin is credited for the original score, and Gina Bonati shares the credit with Muszkatblit for Book Adaptation, Translation, and Lyrics.

While the story begins with a celebration of the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) and the special new dress Hanna’s mother has made for her, it is not specifically a religious story, but rather a universal story about love and kindness — what the world needs more of right now.

Hanna loves her mother, Shabbat, and the beautiful dress so much that she must show the dress to her friends, Zuzzi, the dog, and Edna, the cow. Although it’s nearly time for Shabbat candles, the excited Hanna forgets herself and wanders. She comes upon an elder struggling with his bag of coal, and she kindly offers to help him bring it home. It’s late when they arrive, and, as Hanna begins her journey home to her mama, the darkness is a little frightening to her. By the light of the moon, she also realizes that her beautiful white dress has been stained by the coal. Fortunately, the moon, the stars and a beautiful black light effect come to the rescue.

Talented Ensemble

During the February 4 performance, Hannah Seusy, who shares the title role with Case Watson (pictured above), conveyed Hanna’s exuberant kindness with great emotion. Cast member Kate Mulberry, tripling as Mother, Edna (the cow), and Storyteller, inspired alternately with maternal joy and bovine humor, as appropriate. Matt Webster gave each of his personae, Coalman, Zuzzi (the dog), and Storyteller, distinctly clear interpretations. This team of people made the ensemble seem larger than it is. Jordan Silver, not seen on this date, performs as the Understudy for Matt Webster. The aerial set (pictured below) is nearly a group of characters in itself as it transforms in puppet-like ways.

Audience response in the forest scene from Hanna and the Moonlit Dress

The 14th Street Y Theatre Experience

The black box theater at the 14th Street Y is a comfortable venue with actual (soft) seats. Children were encouraged to sit on the stage floor and invited to participate in various moments of the action. At the end of the play, the characters meet the children in the lobby for autographs, photos, and thank you’s. While this is billed as a play for younger children, more than one parent and grandparent were moved by its delightful message. And there are a couple of musical nods to another generation’s happy songs.

Move quickly! There’s only one more weekend of performances left: February 10–11, 2018 at 11 am and 1 pm. Do your heart some good. Sneak a peek at the trailer, and buy tickets at www.TheMoonLitDress.com

© 2018 Copyright Deborah S. Greenhut, All Rights Reserved