For its first production of the new year, Colonial Players presents a loopy fairy-tale retelling in Don Nigro's "Cinderella Waltz" that delivers laughs and leads to rethinking what constitutes a happy ending.
Prolific playwright Nigro once told the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism that he values "emotional truths, and every play is a new investigation into truth." Presumably, his 1978 "Cinderella Waltz" is such a philosophical search for truth by examining the choices made by his quirky fairy-tale characters.
At first familiar to us, the plot tells the story of Rosey Snow, who is mourning her dead mother and now serving her demanding stepmother and stepsisters Regan and Goneril. There will be a palace ball where the prince will choose a bride, and a magical creature will help Rosey arrive in style.
But this is "Cinderella Waltz," filled with twists and turns that include a troll who emerges from a well to fulfill his assignment distributing ball invitations. Here, the troll is joined by Prince Alf in inviting all three young women of the house — including Rosey, over the protests of her stepmother.
Other noticeable quirks in the telling of this twisted fairy tale include besotted, earthy Mother McGee, also emerging from the well — where she may actually live — to offer some fairy-godmother magic. Stepmother Snow seems more ditsy than cruel as she deals with her fading youth. Rosey's only friend is village idiot Zed, who becomes her dance instructor and may have a firmer understanding of reality than he often projects.
Jennifer Parris directs her first main-stage Colonial Players production, and in her director's notes, she tells us that she submitted her longtime favorite script to the play selection committee for consideration and had even designed a set for the production. Parris has gathered a talented cast of nine players who have "done everything asked of them" and probably all they could within the scope of their roles.
Outstanding performances include the CP debut of Liza Warder, who portrays a young woman who has "stumbled into a fairy tale" and finds a way to make her own life choices as Rosey Snow.
Warder has strong rapport with her friend Zed, skillfully portrayed by Dann Alagna in his every move, from speech-impaired, incomprehensible stutterer to a friend imparting surprising wisdom. Alagna's Zed is capable of athletically diving into the hog trough where he hides and sometimes sleeps. His choreographed twitching and stomping create a charming dance instruction for Rosey. Zed's subtle transformation, as created by Alagna, is a highlight of this production.
Another highlight is the over-the-top performance of Monica Garcia as Rosey's fairy godmother. Mother McGee springs from the well to deliver her rare magic to prepare Rosey for the ball and dazzle the audience with hysterical bumbling that somehow works.
Most of the other roles can be categorized as cameos that require little character development or major interaction.
Frequently seen as Colonial Players' leading man, Pat Reynolds delivers an enigmatic portrait of Prince Alf, who beneath his royal pronouncements realizes his human limitations while savoring his royal heritage and conveying a princely image. No Prince Charming, Alf is impatient with the troll's inefficiency and intolerant of Stepmother Snow's conceits, but he is wise enough to make sensible and surprising choices.
Stepsisters Snow are well captured by Samantha Alagna, playing good-natured, dim-witted Regan who finds happiness with the troll, and Olga Petrovic as bitter, angry Goneril who is miserable even when preparing to attend the royal ball and seems less than elated at her royal fate.
Kathryn Huston plays the constantly angry stepmother with a hint of wry humor. Huston skillfully delivers her protestations of fair-mindedness: "I'm not a bigot. I love dwarfs, but there's just too many of them running loose. Every morning there's six or seven coming down the road with pickaxes, whistling and singing and screaming. A decent woman ain't safe."
Tim Sayles plays Rosey's father, Delbert Snow, who has spent 40 years in the cinder mines and now is excluded by his new wife from family matters. Required to wear only long underwear throughout his performance, Sayles' Delbert manages to communicate concern for daughter Rosey between searches for his missing pants.
I'd be remiss not to praise the fabulous costumes designed by Beth Terranova that help define the characters and lend sparkle to this entire production. Among most admired was Mother McGee's outrageous outfit, which Terranova said was created by Meghan O'Beirne. Meg Venton made the three amazing headpieces of peacock feathers, cards and chess pieces.
"Cinderella Waltz" runs through Jan. 21, Thursdays through Sundays. Call the box office at 410-268-7373 for reservations.