MAGICAL FABLE FOR ALL AGES AT ARTSWEST

There are many tales that rely on a core story of three sisters. As a girl, I can remember my constant fury and frustration at the sexism of these triads: one pretty, one ugly, one plain; one cruel, one crueler, one angelic; one loyal, one disloyal, one innocent—I felt unseen, or even worse, I saw female characters “used” for everything but themselves. Most likely they were three daughters meant to be married off. All in all, with arguably the exception of Chekhov, the three women (sisters, witches, wives, daughters, nuns, whores)  in legend after legend have no stories, much less back stories, of their own. They exist to serve the purposes of male protagonists whose journeys are meant to be the focus.

Not so is the case with ArtsWest’s enchanting production of  THIS GIRL LAUGHS, THIS GIRL CRIES, THIS GIRL DOES NOTHING, running through April 10. Written by Irish playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer, and masterfully directed by Johamy Morales, THIS GIRL weaves the stories of three sisters who must journey throughout the world and within themselves, in order to find their way back to each other as fully-realized women. It is theatre magic which allows all that to happen in just 75 minutes. But it takes more than magic to interlace three trajectories that travel clear ‘round the world. It takes a talented ensemble of artists united in their language of storytelling, and a circle of eager audience members, young and the young at heart, close by and leaning even closer in to absorb the story. We are seated in-the-round in ArtsWest’s intimate theatre and the action swirls around us in a haze of shadow and light.

Three daughters, triplets,  are nonetheless known as the eldest Albienne (the splendid Mara Palma), the middle Beatrix (the ferocious Bella Orobaton), and the youngest Carmen (the intensely focused Lola Rei Fukushima). The girls are born to a loving couple somewhere in the world. We see them grow, differentiate, mature. Mother (Anjelica McMillan) dies as they reach their 11th year, and Father (Tyler Campbell) leads them into the forest when they reach their 12th year of age, where, inexplicably (for the moment), he abandons the girls to find their own way. I must not reveal too many details of their journeys; suffice it to say that though they seek their father, they find themselves. Albienne heads east to become first a warrior, the middle child who craves the sun, travels west to follow it, and the youngest remains in the forest, taking care of all who come toward her, and planting, building, waiting. Kudos must be shouted out to the great character work of Campbell, whose open style of performance is so generous, so clear, that he becomes an audience favorite, and to McMillan who transforms before our eyes with a simple babushka wrapped around her head. The wonderful ensemble of actors is physically rambunctious, kinetically connected to each other, and able to conjure a sunset, a forest, a battle, a mountainside, a flavorful cake, and my favorite–a spiral staircase– with the flick of their imagination and take us with them.  This company of all non-Equity actors are all making their ArtsWest debut. Brava! to Mat Wright and team for introducing such wonderful talent to their audiences.

Set and Lights are by Matt McCarren and he uses the ArtsWest theatre to its best advantages. Costumes are simple, rustic, perfectly tailored to the characters who need them. I particularly admired the terrific shoes and boots that each of the actors wore—consistent with the fairy tale, and serving the actors’ needs. The lights were musky, saturated in color, and imperceptible in changes—just right for a fast-moving fairy tale. The sound design was confusing at times—a strange mixture of music, atmospheric sounds, and cues. At times the soundscape was awkward, perhaps because of inaccurate levels, or just too many ideas at work.  What is wonderful about Kruckemeyer’s script and Morales’ direction are the simplicity, clarity and poetics working in concert and harmony to tell the story. Kruckemeyer and Morales are stalwarts of Theatre for Young Audiences.  Kruckemeyer has had 100 commissioned plays performed all over the world, and Ms. Morales is a 20-year vet of serving this most challenging of audiences. I’ve always believed that theatre for young audiences should never be lesser-than, child-ish, or patronizingly delivered. As a life-long theatre artist (and the middle of three sisters), I’ve always felt that young audiences are our most important audiences, and should be able to see the very best of our artists, our designers, our plays. Often, Seattle Children’s Theatre has been among the very best theatres in Americas for young audiences. Given ArtsWest’s ongoing commitment to audiences of all ages, it is clear leadership understands the joy and rewards of this mission and can match the quality of the work at SCT.

THIS GIRL LAUGHS, THIS GIRL CRIES, THIS GIRL DOES NOTHING is the first play of a season curated for ArtsWest by a team of Associate Artists working in concert with Artistic Director Mathew Wright and Managing Director Laura Lee. With these collaborating theatre people representing a rainbow of ethnic, racial and other diversities, this kind of envisioning and curation empowers experienced voices to contribute to the direction of an ambitious and innovative professional theatre.  Emerging from the darkness of Covid, the  theme of the season is, “When We Wake;” the plays this season respond to the question, “How will we know what to create together when we finally return to the gathering space?”  THIS GIRL LAUGHS, THIS GIRL CRIES AND THIS GIRL DOES NOTHING is a splendid answer. There is a streamed film version available, but if you can get to the theatre, the magic is worth it.

 

 

THIS GIRL runs through April 10 at ArtsWest. Performance Times vary, running time is 75 minutes with no intermission.  Contact ArtsWest.org for all information, or call 206-938-0963

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