- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

Time haunts Imagination Stage’s shimmering production of “Cinderella,” adapted by British playwright Charles Way, who wrote “Merlin and the Cave of Dreams,” which enchanted audiences at the theater last season.

A golden clock looms over the stage, and timepiece parts bedeck Sara Nelson’s gilded set design. Throughout this 90-minute play, you are constantly aware of time passing — or, in the case of Cinderella (Erika Rose), of time standing stock-still.

In Mr. Way’s modern take on the fairy-tale classic, Cinderella’s grief over the death of her mother is so great that the world has stopped moving. Mourning has made the young girl petulant and self-centered — she spends her days weeping in the garden and tormenting her sympathetic but addled father (Tim Getman).

Cinderella’s pain keeps her from enjoying a magical talking bird (Antoinette Doherty) who comes to visit, as well as an affable stranger (David Covington)who hears Cinderella crying and is drawn to her.

However, time doesn’t cease for everyone. Cinderella’s father feels a year of mourning is enough and takes on a new wife (Miss Doherty) and her shrieking, high-maintenance daughters, Constanze (Millie Langford) and Aloysia (Danielle A. Drakes). Cinderella fails to fit in with her new family and is relegated to “below stairs,” where she waits on her demanding stepmother and stepsisters.

It takes the machinations of Prince Sebastian (Mr. Covington) and his naughty, tantrum-throwing father, King Leopold (Mr. Getman) to help Cinderella realize that change is good and that people must move forward to be happy.

In Mr. Way’s adaptation, directed with warmth and empathy by Janet Stanford, Cinderella is not a passive victim, but a strong-willed young woman who believes she is honoring her mother’s memory by hanging on to grief. Miss Rose’s Cinderella is free of fairy-tale frippery. Instead, she is a girl obstinately clinging to the past and closing her eyes to all the opportunities for love and hope right in front of her.

Audiences of all ages will easily relate to the subplot dealing with the difficulties facing blended families. Despite its modern sensibilities, “Cinderella” is set in the 18th century, in Mannheim, Germany, and features the delightful character of Wolfy (Paul Fidalgo), the teenaged Mozart, whose court music flutters throughout the production.

While dealing with grief and the rigors of getting unstuck, “Cinderella” is shot through with humor both gentle and brattish. When Cinderella’s wallowing becomes indulgent, she gets tenderly mocked. Yet the finest comic moments are the most blatant, especially when Mr. Getman plays the emotionally stunted King Leopold, who refuses to take a bath or get out of bed. His teddy-bear-clutching hissy fits are priceless. The histrionics of Miss Langford and Miss Drakes as the two stepsisters are equally hilarious, with the actresses playing the characters not as ugly, just monstrously spoiled.

With its portrait of an emotionally distraught heroine, “Cinderella” could be heavy going. Instead, the show is pliant enough to contain realistic characters without sacrificing the magic inherent in the classic tale of a girl transformed from put-upon servant into poised, empathetic princess.

***

WHAT: “Cinderella,” by Charles Way

WHERE: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Saturdays, 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m. tomorrow and Oct. 29. Through Nov. 6.

TICKETS: $10 to $15

PHONE: 301/280-1660

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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