Don't expect a namby-pamby witch in "Hansel and Gretel" at the Assistance League Playhouse. When this cackling crone (played with great relish by Ottilie Laybourne) tells Hansel, "I'll have you for dinner, and that way your little sister can watch and weep," she sounds as if she means it.
No wonder director Jon Peck gives audience members pre-show encouragement to boo and hiss (and cheer). Delighted, they take him at his word.
There are few cozier places for children to see a show than the 50-year-old raftered, country-style Playhouse. The all-female, non-professional Nine O'Clock Players--an auxiliary of the Assistance League of Southern California--gives a good showing.
It takes an effort to believe Lucetta Kallis as the father, but it's her petite stature and slightly bouffant wig that create the difficulty. Pam Banks plays Hansel with appealingly sturdy boyishness, a good counterpart to Linda Burk's shy Gretel.
Kitty Morris is a scene-stealer without speaking a word: As Hansel and Gretel hesitate to taste the witch's gingerbread house, Morris' elderly Black Cat draws attention with sly eye-rolling and lip-smacking, always a half-beat behind the musical cues.
A drawback is erratic costuming. Banks and Alison Dienner are credited with costume design. The results are mixed.
Mimi Vestal's Porcupine suffers downright indignity. She wears silver high heels and drab gray Dr. Denton's, the heavy quills on her back giving the padded seat of her costume an alarming droop.
Father is clad in what looks like blue long johns. Stinky the Skunk's white stripe is made of tattered white cotton. (Jan Gorman was a last-minute fill-in for the role. With script in hand, she did a comical job and didn't miss a cue.)
In contrast, there are costume stand-outs: Judy Brock's Crow, Susan Rudy's Spider and the Snake, played by Claire Dunkel. Each features bold colors, stylized design and superb makeup. Laybourne's witch is a satisfying fright in red and black.
Bonnie Hunter provides accompaniment on the piano. The music is unmemorable except for one dark ballad bemoaning children, sung by housekeeper Lady Katrina (Gail Green) and later the witch.
The show is long for the youngest patrons--90 minutes with an intermission--and could easily be trimmed. In Katrina Saroyan's musical adaptation, the story takes place in a dream. Getting to that dream takes a while.
The inconsistencies here are in the play itself and its trappings, not in the hard-working cast.
Performances play at 1367 N. St. Andrews Place on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through March 23, (213) 469-1970 or (818) 240-9961.