Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pipeline's The Ash Girl: a fairly luminous fairy tale

The Pipeline Theatre Company has been an ATFG favorite for a couple of years now and I've always been impressed with their versatility. Thursday night, they proved their chameleon character to me again during a preview of their new show The Ash Girl.

Director Jessika Doyel's The Ash Girl is a stirring adaptation of Timberlake Wertenbaker's play, which itself is a beautiful take on the Cinderella story. The play adds layers and weight to the conventional Cinderella plot with its personification of the Seven Deadly Sins (including Sadness as a loner, who is reluctant to be a group member but is an equally dangerous eighth villain), funny and wise animals that do more than help with chores, a less than wicked and more pathetically covetous stepfamily, and a prideful and homesick foreign Prince. The Sins fuel the actions of others, stirring up inner demons that the characters must fight off or end up giving into. Ashgirl, played with wonderful intricacy by Meagan Kensil, is a melancholic Cinderella-like young woman who, with the help of The Fairy in the Mirror, uses inner-strength and hope to fight off the eight literal and figurative demons as she finds solace in the company of an equally tormented Prince.

Despite the fantastical and mythical aspects of the play, Pipeline's adaptation of The Ash Girl has a subtle quality, helped in part by its low-key set and lighting design. With their productions of Felix & the Diligence and The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Pipeline impressed by proving that they could utilize a large stage and orchestrate well with a large cast, but with The Ash Girl they decide to subdue the audience into awe. The audience is seated directly on the stage, in a three-fourths of an in-the-round setup with cast members entering and exiting from numerous doorways and ladders. And despite the relatively sizable cast, the show creates an intimate feel with its small stage, dark lighting, limited props, and mostly muted costumes. The eight villains slink in and out of the shadows setting a menacing and ominous tone for the audience. There is a chilling bareness at the beginning of the show that slowly creeps and crescendos into an overflowing turmoil of Ash Girl's inner-conflict as she longs for happiness but struggles to believe she can obtain it. The play eventually eases us into the inevitable warm, happy ending only after making us yearn for it and believe its possibility, just as Ashgirl resolves to believe for herself. Kensil's eyes vividly standout throughout the play as she portrays Ashgirl's sway between sorrow and hope. She captures a forlorn gaze and a look of longing with equal finesse. Teddy Rodger and Sam Chapin help cheer up Kensil's Ashgirl and do a lovely job of counterbalancing the show's haunting feel with their warm and funny performances as her animal friends Mouse and Otter, respectively.

Fueled by Wertenbaker's sophisticated text, the entire cast and crew do a wonderful job of creating an eerily ethereal yet engrossing show. The Ash Girl opens tonight and I urge you to go see it and get wrapped up in the dark but oddly tender fantasy.

Written by: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Directed by: Jessika Doyel
April 21–May 5, 2012
Wednesdays–Saturdays, 8PM
The Connelly Theater
220 E. 4th St. (between Avenues A & B)
Tickets: $18 for general admission, $13 for students (with a pay what you can show on Wednesday, April 25!)
For tickets and more information, go here.
Please also consider donating to their fundraising campaign here.


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