THE ASH GIRL
Studio 58 opens its season with a good production of a mediocre play from an excellent playwright. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s metadrama about the prisoners who settled Australia, Our Country’s Good, has become a staple of college and university theatre. Three Birds Alighting on a Field and The Grace of Mary Travers are also complex, powerful plays. The Ash Girl, by contrast, is a silly, bloated rewriting of the Cinderella story that can’t decide if it wants to be theatre for young audiences or for adults. Either way, it doesn’t provide the kind of challenging vehicle for the talents of its young actors that we’ve come to expect from the Studio.
Padding the tale are long, dull, overly explicit scenes involving animal characters representing the deadly sins: Slothworm, Angerbird, Envyworm and the like. These give everyone in the large ensemble something to do, and the performances are mostly cute, but the characters seem extraneous—all but Sadness (Evelyn Chew), whose temptations for Ash Girl to despair have some power.
There’s nothing particularly novel about the central characters. At the heart of the story are still Cinderella (the ash girl), played clearly and beautifully by Lindsey Angell, her nasty (in this case also comic) stepsisters (Susan Coodin and Ella Simon), the stepmother (Rachel Aberle), the Prince (a nicely charming Luc Roderique), and his mother (Namrita Hayer).
Director Sarah Rodgers has put together a stylish production, with interesting live music from Kaitlin Straker, and a high-end design team including Bryan Pollock (set), Barbara Clayden (costumes), Itai Erdal (lighting), and Karin Konoval (sound and choreography). Lights, set and sound all need to be engaged frequently to cover Wertenbaker’s numerous busy scene changes.There’s an awful lot of talent on stage and behind the scenes here. But I wish there were more for them to sink their talented teeth into.