This time of year, symbols of the most celebrated United States winter holiday predominate. Everywhere you look, there are decorated trees and lights; in just about every store, familiar carols make up the soundtrack (as they have since before Thanksgiving). And now for something completely different from the Unexpected Stage Company—fulfilling the promise of its name.
Christopher Goodrich and Rachel Stroud-Goodrich, the professional regional theater company’s co-founders and co-producing artistic directors—as well as husband and wife, will complete their eighth season on Saturday, Dec. 16, with “How the Grunch Stole Hanukkah.” The show, “a loving parody, filled with music and holiday treats” that Christopher wrote in just a few weeks, is his take on the 1957 Dr. Seuss classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Goodrich, who teaches English and theater at Sherwood High School, is a Watkins Mill High School alumnus who majored in acting at New York University and earned a master of fine arts degree New England College. Although he is not Jewish, Rachel is, and he said she “encouraged me to be more inclusive.” Regardless, he noted, “I have Jewish taste buds. I love all the food–except gefilte fish.”
“There’s a shortage of Jewish and Hanukkah tales and gatherings this time of year,” Goodrich observed, “and we want to encourage other voices, explore stories not yet told, offer a point of view that people may not know.” During the two previous holiday seasons, Unexpected Stage performed “A Wake for Jacob Marley,” his piece based on the minor character in “A Christmas Carol.” Goodrich acknowledged, in both cases, he has a penchant for “narratives that piggyback off other well-known tales.”
For a small, lesser-known company, Goodrich pointed out, a narrative with a twist based on an already established widely familiar work invites trust. “New work is much harder to sell,” he said.
Unexpected Stage’s most recent production, this past summer, was Carly Mensch’s “Oblivion,” received high praise, and their previous shows have earned Helen Hayes Award recommendations and nominations.
Goodrich said his narrative “follows Dr. Seuss’ basic plot and has a similar kind of humor and rhymed verse, but heavily ‘Yiddish-ized.’” While in Seuss’ book, the Grinch became Santa Claus, in Goodrich’s tale, the misguided creature who tries to ruin the Festival of Lights becomes the town’s bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother). The message, too, is slightly different; while Seuss’ was “that Christmas doesn’t come from a store,” Goodrich explained, “Grunch” reminds us of the deeper meaning of the holiday season in terms of the Jewish people’s “resilience after persecution.”
Two people will take the stage. Richard Goemann will read the Grunch’s tale, storybook-style; and Deborah Sternberg will sing traditional Hanukkah songs and Jewish prayers. Goemann, said Goodrich, was a “natural choice.” The Unexpected Stage board of directors member is both Jewish and a former actor. “He has the cadence, the rhythms, but he’s not over the top or stereotypical,” Goodrich said. As for Sternberg, she is “a gorgeous soprano” who performs at the Kennedy Center and serves as the cantorial soloist of Congregation Ohr Chadash, the synagogue the Goodrich family attends. “During services, I just close my eyes and listen to her,” Goodrich said. “Her music gives my story weight.”
“Grunch” will be presented in the Fireside Room of the River Road Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, the second Unexpected Stage show at the 40-seat venue. “The church is open, non-judgmental,” Goodrich said, noting that there was no problem with the controversial issues of “Oblivion,” the first Unexpected Stage production presented there. “And the intimate space is just perfect for us.”
The show is Unexpected Stage’s annual fundraiser to raise money for the new season, which will be determined in January, with auditions in February or March, followed by an artist retreat with five multidisciplinary artists at the Goodrich’s Lake Ana home in April and the mainstage production during the summer.
“How the Grunch Stole Hanukkah,” a storybook reading appropriate for all ages, adapted by Christopher Goodrich, will take the stage of the Fireside Room of River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 6301 River Road, Bethesda, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16. For advance tickets–$20, $15 for students, visit grunch.brownpapertickets.com or call 800-838-3006. Tickets at the door are $25, $20 for students. For information, call 301-337-8290 or visit www.unexpectedstage.org. Learn more about this event on CultureSpotMC here.