This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing - Wellesley Repertory Theatre
This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing – Wellesley Repertory Theatre
Review by James Wilkinson
This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing is presented by Wellesley Repertory Theatre. Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer. Directed by Marta Rainer. Set Design: Janie E. Howland. Sound Design: George Cooke. Costume Design: Chelsea Kerl. Lighting Design: Bridget Doyle. Fight Director: Sarah Flanagan.
Wellesley Repertory Theatre would like to tell you a story. It’s a story about a trio of sisters and the adventures they had. There are Vikings and far-away lands. There are friendly woodland critters and curmudgeonly lighthouse keepers. There are whole towns moving under the power of a team of thirty horses and entire cities of people who have never seen the sun or danced a two-step jig. There’s a whole wide world explored before finally returning to the comfort of home. All of this and more can be found in Finegan Kruckemeyer’s play This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing now in production at Wellesley Rep. If any of the above sounds like it belongs in a tale by the Brother’s Grimm, that’s by design. Kruckemeyer’s play draws heavily from a number of classic fairytale sources, proudly wearing those inspirations on its sleeve. I have to say, though, that a few days after having seen the production, I’m struggling to decide just how successful the whole thing is. It’s not that the production doesn’t have charm (it does) and it’s not that the quality of the artistic team is deficient in any way (it’s not). It’s that given the subject matter, the production just didn’t spark the sense of wonder that I wanted it to and which had me leaving the theater feeling unfulfilled.
To take a step back, the three girls of the title are Beatrix, Carmen and Albienne (Meredith Gosselin, Erin Eva Butcher and J Taylor D’Andrea), triplets who live with their parents at the edge of the woods. When the girls are still young, their mother unexpectedly dies in an accident involving a boat, a bridge and a red-headed bicyclist (it’s really quite tragic). Their father eventually remarries to a woman who doesn’t take to her three new step-children (they never do in stories like this). It isn’t long before the sisters are led by their father deep into the woods where they’re then left on their own, all at the tender age of ten. After much debate, the sisters decide to split up. Beatrix will go around the world in one direction. Albienne will go around the world in the other. Carmen will stay put and make a home in the woods. From there begins the chronicle of the twenty-year odyssey the sister, finding their way and eventually, each other.
Can you fault a production for what it doesn’t do? I’ve always been of the opinion that a critic’s focus needs to be on what the production does do, not what’s lacking. Under Artistic Director Marta Rainer’s guidance, what Wellesley Rep’s production does attempt to do is recreate the wonder that comes from being read a story when you’re very young. In Kruckemeyer’s text there are very few dialogue scenes. Most of the play’s lines feature the actors speaking directly to the audience, telling the story as if reading out of a book. Janie E. Howland’s beautiful set design runs with this idea, turning the space into a theatre-size picture book illustration, complete with a decorative half-border. The gorgeous costume design by Chelsea Kerl completes the image by dressing the actors as if they’ve just stepped out of that illustration. The cast scatters about the stage like a group of children playing make-believe. In addition to narration duty, actors bounce from character to character, portraying everyone the sisters will meet on their journeys.
So what’s my problem? Well, it’s that sitting in the theater, I kept wishing that there was just a bit more to the proceedings. It’s a lovely little tale, but it never feels like it develops into being more than a lovely little tale. The assembled cast is game for what the script throws at them and Gosselin, Butcher and D’Andrea are perfectly delightful in their roles as the three sisters. But because Kruckemeyer’s script so rarely breaks from narration-mode, the dialogue never really allows the actors to break free and soar the way they seemed primed to do. We’re always on the outside of these characters, observing them rather than being let into their interior lives. Late in the play, when the three sisters meet their father again after so many years, the moment passes without a second thought. All is forgiven. Shouldn’t at least one of them harbor some resentment for being abandoned in the woods at age ten? Granted, this mindset is in line with the storytelling aesthetic that the production is going for, (no one in fairy tales takes the time to analyze their own motives or actions), but all the same, I wanted to see something new with the material. I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything I was watching, I had seen before.
In fact, the production called to mind two other Boston-area production. Liars and Believer’s A Story Beyond from last December also sought to tell an original folk tale using a variety of “poor theatre” techniques and (in my opinion) managed to bridge an emotional connection between the audience and the characters in a way that this production doesn’t. More recently, Entropy Theatre’s A Grimm Thing was a devised piece based on Grimm’s fairytales and while I hadn’t been as enthusiastic about that production, it was at least offering a new spin on the tales by examining them through a queer theory lens.
It may be that This Girl Laughs is simply better suited for a younger audience. I could easily see it acting as a kind of primer for a child’s first theater experience. But for an older audience member, I think that the play is a harder sell. The production has charm, but it needs more.
This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing is presented by Wellesley Repertory Theatre at the Ruth Nagel Jones Theater at Wellesley College June 5-30, 2019.
For tickets and more information, visit their website: www.wellesleyrep.org
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