Everyone knows what a Cinderella story is: the tale of a downtrodden individual who overcomes the odds and finds happiness.
The tale has been told so often that the basic premise has become cliché. Filmmakers and storytellers alike have adapted the story throughout the years, altering the setting, the gender of the main character or the themes in an attempt to revitalize it for a different audience.
However, few have retold the story in a manner akin to that of the Synetic Family Theater in Arlington, Virginia.
The Synetic Family Theater’s “The Rough-Faced Girl” is a Native American retelling of the classic Cinderella story. The play (adapted from the book of the same name) loosely adheres to the plot of the original, but alters the story with new perspectives and creative twists.
In this version, Cinderella, or Rough-Faced Girl, is cared for not by her stepmother, but by her older sister, Takhi. Jessica Thorn, who plays Takhi, portrays the character’s subtle evolution from innocent child to hard-hearted woman skillfully. Even as Takhi displays cruelty toward her sister, audience members sympathize with her plight as a lone caregiver when she is only a child herself.
The Prince Charming of this adaptation, a hunter named Achak (played by Joshua Rosenblum), is guarded by an overprotective older sister. In order to protect Achak, his sister makes him “invisible.”
This scene exemplifies a key aspect of the play: imagination. In order to fully appreciate the subtleties of the play, audience members must understand and believe each scenario with the conviction of the actors.
Although the Synetic Family Theater features plays for children and families, the play is by no means simplistic. Rather, it challenges children to understand the greater themes of the piece by relating a familiar tale in a different setting. Furthermore, the actors engage the audience by climbing over chairs and audience members alike during a humorous chase scene.
The dramatic gestures and facial expressions throughout the play and especially during this scene are reminiscent of the acting style of silent movies. Such a comparison is fitting due to the play’s absence of words.
Although the actors do not utter a word during the hour-long performance, the play is far from silent. Music serves an important role in the play; it works in unison with the motions of the actors. The performers make curtains dance in time with the swells of the music. Melodies drift to the ears of audience members as lights set the mood of each scene.
Acrobatics heighten the excitement of the play. Achak is lithe in his movements, skillfully maneuvering a precarious metal structure over the course of the play. The actors also craft seats from long strips of cloth hung from the ceiling. This innovation and skill is characteristic of the performance as a whole.
The Synetic Family Theater’s performance of “The Rough-Faced Girl” is an entertaining and impressive retelling of the traditional Cinderella story and definitely worth a trip down to Arlington.