The Ash Girl
Presented by the College of Charleston
Nov. 8-10, 12-13, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 11, 3 p.m.
Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts
54 St. Philip St.
When do little girls begin dreaming of growing up to become princesses?
"The princess myth takes hold early, " says Laura Turner, director of the College of Charleston's production of The Ash Girl, a retelling of the Cinderella story by Timberlake Wertenbaker. "My daughter's Pull-ups have Cinderella and a carriage on the front, a pumpkin and a castle on the back. By age two, both daughters knew the princess stories well, and how they must end. In fact, they knew all the princesses by sight."
Fairy tales come in two varieties. The sugar-sweet Disney story and the classic Brothers Grimm tale from which the Disney versions evolved. The Ash Girl's contemporary retelling is not something Uncle Walt would have included in his theme parks. Containing references to eating disorders, incest, self-mutilation, and the Seven Deadly Sins, The Ash Girl is perhaps unsuitable for children, but once you get beyond the original tale's familiar plot, it becomes an engaging story of the trials many modern teenage girls face on their way to becoming strong, self-assured women.
The play follows Ash Girl, a young woman whose mother has died and whose father has exiled himself, fearing his incestuous desire for his daughter.
"Ashes are warm. In the ashes, no one sees you. Ashes are safe. I will stay in these ashes, melt into them," Ash Girl says, setting the groundwork for her transformation from a depressed young lady with decimated self-esteem into a proud woman who discovers she is responsible for her own happiness.
Of course, having a prince doesn't hurt. This prince, however, is different. He's from an exotic land lost in war. Now in a foreign country trying to make a home, he doesn't expect to find love. As for the Step Mother, she starts out as almost likable before being consumed by the need for her daughters to get ahead, letting her ambition lead her down paths no mother should take.
Adding to the original tale are the Seven Deadly Sins, portrayed as animals in the forest seeking to overthrow humanity, with Ash Girl and the other story characters as their latest victims. There is also the personification of Sadness, who insinuates his way into Ash Girl's soul, urging her toward death.
The daughter of a writer for Time, Timberlake Wertenbaker has escaped the shadows of her parents to cast her own light by translating and adapting classic tales and novels for the stage. Winning the Plays and Players Most Promising Playwright award in 1985 for The Grace of Many Things, she has continued to grow and achieve success, with awards on both sides of the Atlantic for her many creations, including six Tony nominations for her best-known work, This Country's Good, an adaptation of Thomas Keneally's The Playmaker.
The play's scenic design is by Tricia Thelen and costume design is by Lindsey Sikes. Lighting designer is John Olbrych. Dance choreography by Christina Landis and fight choreography by Mitchell Grant. The cast includes theatre student Elizabeth Bays as Ash Girl, Tannisha Brown as the Step Mother, Rachel Troublefield Nelson and Dorothy Masters as the Step Sisters, and James Frye as Prince Amir. They are joined by 16 other actors bringing to life the Seven Deadly Sins among the many other characters.