Monday, January 17, 2011

If the Shoe Fits

If the Shoe Fits

By Tom Wachunas

The program notes for the current Players Guild production of “Cinderella” are written by Amanda Medley, who also directed this adaptation by William Glennon. Her thoughts are disarmingly personal and optimistic. But it is an honest and welcome optimism in these jaded, angst-riddled times, sparked by what she calls “the power of dreaming” along with the message of hope and love that the classic story has instilled in her since childhood.

The Glennon adaptation, then, is clearly in harmony with how the tale has resonated with Medley. There are no unnecessary liberties taken in this version - nothing that twists the storyline too much, overly “modernizes” the already iconic characters, or in any way darkens the ending which is forever etched into our cultural memory. Yes, this is an evening of fine theatre tailored for children, right down to the delightfully colorful costumes – call them Rococo Psychedelic – by Susie Smith and Leslie DeStefano. But I think adults will sense a subtle shift in perspective. It’s as if the story were being told by a child who shares Cinderella’s view of the stepmother and sisters not as insurmountably evil monsters so much as insensitive, even silly pests.

The story is introduced here by The Jester, an adventuresome sprite from the Palace, well- played by David Burkhardt. He clearly has a heart for mischief and comedy. Early in the proceedings he meets Cinderella, whom he has dubbed The Lady of the Tubs as she’s fretting over the laundry. He tells Cinderella of her Fairy Godmother, played by Tawny Burkhardt who, with a wave of her wand, can change the weather and the stage lights. He also introduces her to fellow outdoorsman Sir Soapy Suds who is, unbeknownst to her at the time, The Prince, played by Kristopher Ray North. North’s most endearing moment comes late, during the Royal Ball as, smitten by the vision of a transformed Cinderella, he’s left genuinely tongue-tied and starry-eyed.

It is a lavish dose of bickering sibling shenanigans that gives this production much of its additional theatrical charm. Angela Reighard plays the older sister, Allison Merten the younger. Merten’s character is perky, fiercely competitive, and like her older sister, eager to please mother. But this baby of the family can’t seem to let a conversation go by without reminding anyone within earshot that her sister is a big fat toad. This of course leads to constant chasing about with ear-splitting shrieks, much to the delight of many children in the audience. Reighard’s portrayal of the ditzy older sister sizzles with quirky facial contortions and daffy double-takes. Both sisters seem hopelessly unable to absorb lessons in feminine etiquette, evidenced by their hilariously spastic curtsies and mangled attempts at sophisticated conversation. Meanwhile, Cheryl Henderson turns in a solid portrayal of their mother, alternately self-absorbed, doting, and exasperated, all the while presenting a cold heart to Cinderella, whom she constantly calls ‘cinder wench’ and ‘cinder maid.’

In that role, Cassandra Martin presents no real surprises, but then again, why mess with timeless enchantment? She’s convincingly sweet and vulnerable, yet faithful to her dream and tender to a fault. I admit to expecting a bit more dramatic urgency or tension between her and her stepmother, particularly at the conclusion, which seemed too cursory a moment of forgiveness. But it’s a minor shortcoming. What this play might lack in compelling “adult” drama is abundantly replaced by its unabashedly poignant embrace of youthful dreaming. In the end, it’s a warming invitation to walk, if only for a few hours, in kids’ shoes.

Photo: Cinderella by Maxfield Parrish. The Players Guild Theatre production of “Cinderella” runs through January 30 in the William G. Frye Theatre, located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, Canton. Shows are at 7:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 adults, $12 ages 17 and younger. To order call (330) 453 – 7617 or visit

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