nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
October 10, 2009
It is a time honored tradition of theatre to question the fairytales of youth while using the settings to explore in greater detail just what lessons are really be learned. Now, this is probably because stories like those of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Little Red Riding Hood are such that it is reasonable for a playwright to assume that the audience is familiar with the subject matter and most likely shares a skeptical attitude about at least some elements of the narrative. I mean, barring dragons, witches, talking mirrors, fairy godmothers, trolls, big bad wolves, genies, talking cloud lions with the voice of Darth Vader, singing mice, or mermaids, the children's tales of today still depict one big issue that rings fairly untrue: "Happily Ever After." Children are smart enough to see through that charade and even the most delusional of adults have most certainly been confronted with the truth about the real world. Plagued–A Love Story, part of this year's New York Musical Theatre Festival, takes a stab at the world of Cinderella by showing what happens down the line.
The show opens with a young girl musing about the nature of things, and then shifts to a court festival, with dancing and singing. The gathered attendants gossip about Prince Charming and his wife Cinderella, now married for 20 years, and how they seem "happy ever since." We learn that the girl from the beginning is their daughter, Dusty. We also learn that Prince Charming's mother, the Queen, has never been too keen on her "common" daughter-in-law and hopes to set things right with her granddaughter...by marrying her off to a rich old prince. Dusty strongly objects and her parents try to side with her, but they are all completely overpowered by the sheer force of will of the dominating Queen. An additional problem comes in the form of Scoop, a young man who was brought up in a monastery who has fled to seek aid for a growing epidemic that is ravaging the kingdom, all unknown to the royal family. The Queen chooses to ignore the threat of the plague and refuses to help her subjects as it might interfere with the wedding.
The play highlights some fantastic performances and provides many interesting examples of relationships as well as a striking placement in history for this classic story, in the Dark Ages amidst the ravages of the Black Plague. The dynamic between Cinderella (Gina Milo) and the Queen (Brenda Braxton) is the best part of the play, highlighting such a vast difference in character and showing wonderful growth of character for one that hasn't been allowed to since Disney got a hold of her. Natalie Bradshaw is a charming Dusty, and her relationship with Pierce Craven's Scoop, however predictable, is very cute and endearing. Also, Lorraine Serabian makes a show-stopping appearance later on, sending the entire audience into tears with laughter.
However, for all the show's strengths, the more whimsical elements of the play often seem out of place taken in context. The Black Plague is a poor subject for a jazz number, no matter how catchy said jazz number is. Furthermore, when a solution is reached, perhaps a wee bit too easily, the cast rejoices and reverts to the "Happily Ever After" mentality far too quickly. Considering that this play opens by dissecting the well-known ending of Cinderella, it seems hypocritical to close with the same kind of mentality. Additionally, I had trouble telling if this show was supposed to be family-friendly or not. There are several scenes, such as bedroom scenes with the Prince and Cinderella, that I would say are inappropriate for children, while the majority of the play has just the perfect balance of hilarious innuendo that my hypothetical grade school cousins would be oblivious to, set against a fairy tale backdrop that they, in all their fictitious youthful naivete, would love. If it weren't for those discrepancies, this could be a great show for all audiences, especially parents and children.