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Moonwatcher: A New Tale of Chelm for Chanukah 

Three bumbling, stone-broke idiots trying to scrape up the dough to fight "weapons of mass aggravation"

Wednesday, Dec 18 2002
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The fools of Chelm, that mythical village of schlemiels somewhere in Eastern Europe, have been visited and revisited by Jewish writers, who keep finding a metaphor in the town for the contemporary scene. This year, more or less for Chanukah, the fools of Chelm go to war. Aaron Davidman, Corey Fischer, and Eric Rhys Miller have written a clown-and-puppet show for children that has three bumbling, stone-broke idiots trying to scrape up the dough to fight "weapons of mass aggravation." An orphan called Menachem is assigned as "moonwatcher," someone who keeps track of the moon in order to let the village know when to celebrate its holidays, and one day the moon just vanishes. So the fools of Chelm rig up a phony one. The story drifts a little -- we never get back to that war -- but then the show is mainly for kids. Miller, along with Joan Mankin, Téana David, and Moshe Cohen (as Menachem), dance and clown to klezmer music written by Daniel Hoffman. The klezmer numbers are fun, but the play itself, especially in the scenes with puppets, is uninspired. One suspects that the writers have padded those scenes just to keep Annie Hallatt's (admittedly cool) puppets onstage a little longer. The humor sits uncomfortably between a Catskills variety show and Saturday morning cartoons, which sometimes confuses the children -- what are they supposed to do with jokes about the stock market? -- but they still seem to enjoy it, especially when Joan Mankin clambers into the audience and pretends to find golf balls and bagels behind a 5-year-old's ear.

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