Glassheart is an offbeat, mature riff on the classic “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale. The Beast must not only conquer the ancient curse that has given him a combined human-animal appearance until he finds love, he must also deal with doubt, depression, and dating in a contemporary American setting. Reina Hardy’s updating of the fairy tale is a charming and thought-provoking success thanks to a well-acted production of Glassheart by Rorschach Theatre.
The “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” moment comes early in the play. The Beast (Andrew Keller) has moved to a small apartment in Chicago that he has leased from a landlady/witch (Lynnette Rathnam). His large retinue of servants is now down to a single attendant, an enchanted human lamp later named Only (Megan Reichelt). She has decorated the apartment and displayed some of the Beast’s prized collection of old, leather-bound books.
Only is relentlessly optimistic, a necessary quality when her master lies on the floor crying out “Despair, despair!” I imagine that’s what a few hundred years of unsuccessful dating can do to a fellow. Only is determined to help her master find love no matter what it takes, including holding onto a lost cat until the owner shows up or using magic chocolates made by the Witch (even though her own culinary preferences run more to small children).
Fortunately, Aiofe (Natalie Cutcher) shows up to claim the cat. She’s a young woman from a small Michigan town who has moved to Chicago to escape her past and start an exciting new life in the big city. She doesn’t find the Beast that awful, thanks to a magic hat provided by Only and her own complicated past. Her apparent attitude is – he may be a shy agoraphobe, but hey, we’ve all got issues.
At the end of the often-funny first act, the romance looks promising. In the tradition of Sondheim’s Into the Woods, however, things become a lot more complicated in the second act. Not surprisingly, it is the Witch who helps stir the pot into a stew full of adult, existential problems. The foundation for these issues is effectively laid and often foreshadowed, such as when the Beast comments about their new home “There are always witches.”
It is hard to imagine a better acted and produced version of Glassheart than Rorschach Theatre’s version. The acting is superlative. Natalie Cutcher imbues Aiofe with quirky charm to make many of today’s standard romantic comedies look bland by comparison. Andrew Keller modulates his character between beastly and more human moments (such as when the Beast reads aloud) that is both smooth and startling at the same time. Even Lynnette Rathnam manages to give a little depth to an under-developed witch who feels more like a plot contrivance.
Yet the most radiant (pun intended) performance comes from Megan Reichelt as the enchanted lamp. Her character turns out to be the most pivotal one in the play and she balances happy moments (such as her love of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame) with her more serious devotion to the Beast, best summed up by a memorably heartfelt cry of “He needs me!” Her performance is what keeps the audience interested through the second act slog about issues including commitment, responsibilities to others and one’s self, and what is important in life.
Closes February 16, 2013
Rorschach Theatre at
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC
2 hours, 20 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $20 – $30
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
The other members of the artistic team also make fine contributions. The mobile set pieces of designer Robbie Hayes are both artful and functional. Lauren Cucarola’s costumes are evocative yet understated (the lamp hat that avoids being a pure replica of a lampshade is especially smart). The original music by Aaron Bliden and Mark Halpern is always appropriate and often haunting.
Playwright Reina Hardy writes witty dialogue. Even though the play could be wound a little more tightly, Glassheart offers her a fine vehicle for many offhand yet interesting observations. Definitely not a Disney version of Beauty and the beast, Rorschach Theatre effectively makes this off-the-wall fantasy an intelligent and entertaining little treat.
Glassheart by Reina Hardy . Directed by Lee Liebeskind . Featuring Natalie Cutcher, Andrew Keller, Lynette Rathnam and Megan Reichelt . Designed by Robbie Hayes (Set Designer), Lauren Cucarola (Associate Set Designer), Katie McCreary (Lighting Designer), Britney Mongold (Props Designer), Veronica J. Lancaster (Sound Designer) with Jennifer Knight (Assistant Director), Christian Sullivan (Technical Director) . Original Music by Aaron Bliden and Mark Halpern . Produced by Randy Baker and Jenny McConnell Frederick for Rorschach Theatre . Reviewed by Steven McKnight.