Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hans Brinker and The Silver Skates: Lessons about life for young people

Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates shows how young people can cope with making hard choices and standing up to their peers and their parents. It is also a very egalitarian play in which boys and girls are treated as equals in their abilities to persevere and to succeed.
Lauren Hirte as Gretel, Ciji Prosser as Heidi, Steven A. Wright as
Carl, Matteo Scammell as Peter, and Brian Ratcliffe as Hans
Photo by Mark Garvin. 
I remember Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates from my childhood. The book held a special place in my library, not because I liked the story, but because the book itself had a special cover that differentiated it from most of the other books I owned. While I could tell you the story of almost all the other books I read from that time, I really didn’t remember more about Hans Brinker than that it had to do with a race along the canals in Holland.

The production of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates at the Arden Children’s Theatre brings the story to life in a enchanting way that makes me think I had never fully appreciated the original. The ice-blue scenery with windmill blades rotating in the background and a floor that serves as an ice rink (Scenic Designer David P Gordon) makes us feel the cold of the Dutch Canals in winter. The cast members, in period costumes (Rosemarie E. McKelvey), glide across the specially-treated stage on “skates” (shoes with felt and rubber soles) so effortlessly that we believe we are watching them skate on ice.  
Lauren Hirte as Gretel. 
Photo by Mark Garvin. 

Set in Holland, the story is about Hans Brinker (Brian Ratcliffe) and his sister Gretel (Lauren Hirte) who have grown up in poverty because their father Raff (Ed Swidey) fell off a scaffolding while trying to repair the dykes during a storm ten years earlier. Since that time he has been “a living man with the mind of a dead man,” who needs to be taken care of by his wife Dame Brinker (Rachel Camp). Now, there is a to be race on the canals with the prize of a pair of silver skates. Hans and Gretel would like to participate, but they only have wooden skates, carved by Hans, to wear on the ice. They don’t stand a chance against the rich kids who regard them as “rag pickers.”

However, Heidi van Gleck (Ciji Prosser) and her friend Peter von Holp (Matteo Scammell) are moved by their story and try to help them by giving them old skates in return for Hans’ carved necklaces. After some persuasion by Hans, grumpy Doctor Boekman (Steven A Wright) agrees to operate on their father as much for his ego as a matter of charity.