Synetic’s distinct style of telling stories through movement, fabric and mime is all over this touching and effective Native American tale of a young girl scarred by fire, who develops her own sense of self worth and beauty. The tale focuses on two sisters making their way through life dealing with tragedy, unexpected twists, unanticipated turns, and dollops of delight and wonder.
Dealing with a resentful sister is bad enough, but if the ill will is based on the beloved Mother dying in childbirth with Dad departing shortly after, well, that’s a recipe for a hard-knock life and that’s exactly the fate of a young Indian maiden played by Jade Wheeler even before she became disfigured.
Saddled with the unenviable job of surrogate mother to a newborn, Jessica Thorne as older sister Takhi portrays the right amount of emotional chagrin in dealing with the unwanted tag-along who must be fed and cared for. When trying to appease her sister by building up a fire, the younger sister adds more heavy logs than called for, resulting in a blaze that gets out of control. The ensemble’s once mildly undulating hands representing flames become furious and grasping the younger girl engulfing her in the fire. When she finally escapes, Takhi barely acknowledges her sister’s pain and anguish and offers no warmth or consolation. It is then that the younger sister, now the rough faced girl, resolves to live her life without seeking approval or expecting love.
Wheeler as Rough-Faced Girl is as much a joy to watch as ever. She handles the title role with the same charming ease that she brought to her fun-filled renditions in Adventure Stage’s Little Engine That Could. Here, she gets to explore the depth of her character in fully expressed movements and mime. When she resolves to find the warrior, Achak, (the handsome and graceful Joshua Rosenblum), who gave her his bow in a mating ritual, and hits the trails in that utterly distinctive mime-walk, her face is as determined as her stride.
Although it takes a couple of beats to get used to the movements as language, even new-comers not familiar with the Synetic silent lexicon can follow the basics, mainly because of the heart-felt performances. The only tricky relationship was Tori Bertocci as Achak’s protective sister Nadie, who cast anxious ladies away from him. Without reading the synopsis beforehand, it takes a minute to understand the dynamics, but that’s eventually resolved as the story unfolds. To protect him from unscrupulous maidens, Nadie uses her magical powers to turn her brother invisible—only one with a true heart can see him.
The company escalates the stakes with ropes of fabric used beautifully to fan out across the stage, or bundled together to support the body-weight of trapeze artists. Michaela Rothschild and Randy Snight who play a variety of supporting roles glide along the set, twist the fabric and climb with the greatest of ease, even suspending themselves upright and upside down, for unbelievably strong acrobatic performances. Snight also has some funny bits playing a gawky persistent maiden vying for the gorgeous warrior, with hilarious results.
The lighting and sound take the story to an entirely new dimension with twinkling stars and blustery winds, handiwork of Lawson Earl for lighting and Elena Velasco and Konstantine Lortkipanidze for sound design. Synetic’s exquisite use of fabric comes to play here draping the cloth like a teepee passageway, and where swaths of material suspended from the ceiling can function as length-wide stage coverings, but can also be gathered rope-like for the gorgeous aerial formations, Phil Charlwood, set designer.
Beautifully directed by Elena Velasco, who also adapted this Cinderella-like story from an American Indian folktale, Rough-Face Girl is impressive from all angles; it offers visually stunning performances from beginning to end– the final moments alone are among the most affecting I’ve witnessed all year.
The show is aurally pleasing with the native sounds of the flute and drum orchestrated by the company’s award winning resident composer, Lortkipanidze, and is even tactilely engaging with authentic artifacts displayed throughout the lobby and across the stage.
Synetic’s showmanship, artistry and heart beat like the drum in this incredible production. The company obviously called on ancient spirits to be part of telling this tale. And they came. Go for yourself and see why. Rough-Face Girl is beautiful and enchantingly good.
The Rough-Face Girl
An Algonquin Folktale
Book by Rafe Martin
Adapted by Elena Velasco
Produced by Synetic Family Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running time: 50 Minutes, with no intermission