Written & Directed by Joel Pommerat
Atelier Berthier of  Theatre Odeon
8 Blvd. Berthier, Paris, 01 44 85 40 40
Nov. 5 through Dec. 25, 2011

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

This is not Perrault's or your childhood's and certainly not Disney's Cinderella. It begins with its heroine (always called the very young girl) in nearly complete shadow at her mother's dimly lit deathbed. Since she can barely be seen or heard, her daughter has this image engraved on her memory. She seems to believe her inheritance is death and darkness. Her subsequent going to life in  light is the theme of Joel Pommerat's play and contemporary production. As a waving narrator (Nicolas Nore, with voice of Marcella Carrara) who has appeared first and will reappear at various transitions points out in projected heavens surrounding all, the myth contains mystery, imagination, archetypes to be incorporated in a modern story and characters and to music of today. There will be a constant contrast between a lack  and excess of windows, symbolically to see beyond the past depiction and perhaps even the present's.

The very young girl  is swept off by her nondescript father (quiet Alfredo Canavate) to a household dominated by her ambitious, cruel stepmother (Catherine Mestoussis, harsh in voice and manner), whose two daughters are favored while Cinderella becomes their maid. She's always apart from the women, just as their home is a brightly lit central diamond shape carved out of dark.  She's scrawny and simply clothed; they're substantial and fashionably decked out. While they plan for going to a royal ball, she, played by Deborah Rouach as a bit of a mousy young teen, gets to carry a vacuum cleaner around like a boa. Then a pony-tailed, somewhat bored young fairy (engaging Noemie Carcaud, after doubling as a  stepsister), who knew her mother, is okay with pitching in to help Cinderella, since her real mother can't.

There's a feeling of destiny in the meeting with the Prince, a roly-poly, also orphaned boy (played with kiddish charm by Carolyn Donnelly, who's also stepsister #2). How he and Cinderella do dance and carry on, especially outside the walls from which ample rock  is heard! From start to subsequent search to finish, she drops the typical passivity of the mythic character. She and the Prince invigorate each other, he going beyond the confines set up by the King (Canavate again, in  meaningful doubling) and she learning to forget things that interfere with life. They both have dreamt of a better life, but now they know it is best to fulfill that dream by living it as much as possible and sharing from now on.

I thought at first that welcoming audiences as young as 8 years old to this production, so long so shadowy and serious, might be a bit of a stretch. But when I saw the play, the youngest kids seem to have taken everything in their stride. They all but joined the stage heroine and hero in their mod moves, ending in stand-up and applause as well as the traditional feet-stamping in approval. And that, even though Cendrillon lasted about 15 minutes longer than the posted hour and a half!  

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