Poor Cinderella. In the last 40 years she has suffered more at the hands of the disillusioned than she ever did at the hands of her famously awful family.
In Amy Miley's improvisational performance piece A New Shoe, Cinderella is now in therapy, working hard to discover why she is so discontented with her post-ball life. This is a truly funny idea, and rehearsals must have been a scream for the participants as they hammered together their show. Nearly every version of the oft-told tale, from Disney's classic animated feature (note to Ms. Miley: it was released in 1949) to Sondheim and Lapine's Into The Woods (scheduled for a Broadway revival next season), comes in for a drubbing.
Miley and her cast of game improvateurs had some moments of inspired brilliance: Cinderella still cleans the castle, because none of her servants can do it better than she can; her stepmother has a different cocktail in hand with every appearance; and a delightfully impromptu dance between a masked Cinderella and her pajama-clad Prince to a jazzy arrangement of "It Had to be You" were several instances. But there was a feeling that once they opened the door to the darker rooms of Cinderella's psyche, they didn't quite have the wherewithal to cross that threshold with the mature assurance necessary to give the work the twisted originality it needed. In trying to explode the cliches of the time-honored tale with an incisive psychological edge, they just replaced them with other, equally time-honored cliches. A perfect example was the outrageously over-the-top Ehren Christian as the alcoholic evil stepmother. Storming around the stage like the demon spawn of Divine and Ursula, the Sea Witch (from Disney's The Little Mermaid, his performance was an amalgam of every drag queen icon from Judy and Susan to Joan and Bette and beyond. Funny? Absolutely. Appropriate? Perhaps. Original? No.
The entire cast, Christian included, was an engaging group, and they offered a youthful sense of fun that was contagious. Especially wonderful were Vanessa Mizzone and Molly Owen as a schizoid Cinderella/Cindy. Mizzone played the pre-ball drudge, while Owen played the post-ball princess who tried to figure out where everything went wrong.
Miley utilized projected slides and a sliding panel to uneven effect: at times a cinematic wipe made a breathtaking visual transformation from one scene to another; more often, there was no rhyme or reason to the movement. (Set by Marya Sea Kaminski, slide projections by Karen Oughtred and Miley.) Dan Jagendorf provided serviceable lighting, the costumes (credited to the "Ash Girl Ensemble") were colorful and appropriate to the characters' unstable states-of-mind, while Antoinette Martinez's fight choreography stood out for its exciting, if violent, precision. Perhaps the most successful element of the evening, Martinez's contribution, as gruesome and frightening as it was, at least had the courage to follow and exploit the convictions of the concept in ways that the rest of the production couldn't, or wouldn't, dare.
(Also featuring David Commander, Iris Espinosa, Lenore Perry and Scott Thewes)
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita