The Beck Center for the Arts has opted to stage a children’s once-upon-a-time story-book written by an Australian playwright as its first main stage show out of the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The story, which follows familiar fairytale tropes, centers around triplet sisters who are abandoned in the forest by their woodcutter father so he can pursue an unhappy relationship with their manipulative step-mother. There the very different sisters embark on separate journeys of discovery. One sister traverses the globe in one direction, the second goes in the opposite direction, and the third stays right where she is, but all three separate with the intention of one day returning from their adventures to each other.
“This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing” doesn’t sound like much of a reason to venture into an indoor theater during these precarious times. But it most certainly is.
C.S. Lewis, the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” once wrote that “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” While Finegan Kruckemeyer’s charming and humorous work is child-friendly, his dramatic writing contains the kind of lyric poetry, engaging narrative style, and sense of theatricality that will capture any adult’s fancy and activate our recently dormant imagination. And the three compassionate, boldly self-sufficient sisters defy fairytale stereotypes as they seek to find their place in the world on their own terms.
The play also encourages – no, invites – creativity in its presentation. In fact, the playwright’s notes in the script suggest that “The play is a story told. This could be by one, by some, or by many” and the simple stage directions leave much room for exploration and interpretation. And so director Eric Schmiedl has turned this play into a one-woman production.
And not just any woman. Welcome back to the stage Derdriu Ring, one of Cleveland’s most commanding, risk-taking, and enthralling actors.
Ring serves as the story’s narrator and, in doing so, breathes life into all three heroines – Albienne, Beatrix, and Carmen – by giving each of them rich dimensionality, a different shade of her enchanting Irish lilt, and a distinctive, character-defining physicality. She also plays the father, the step-mother, and assorted characters and creatures the girls encounter on their epic 20-year journey across oceans, through the wilds, and into their own hearts. Each is enacted with remarkable attention to detail.
In short, Ring makes it all too easy to suspend disbelief and get lost in the world the playwright has created for us.
Her brilliant performance is surrounded by truly gorgeous stagecraft, including scenic design (Mark DeVol) that creates a leaf-coated clearing amidst tall paper birch trees, dramatic rear-projected and overhead lighting (Tim Chrisman), and sweet, soft under-scoring (Angie Hayes).
This is a production worth leaving home for. And, for those of us woefully out of practice sitting at a show, the runtime is only 80 minutes.
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3. He was named best in Ohio for reviews/criticism in the Press Club of Cleveland’s 2021 All Ohio Excellence in Journalism Awards.