by MATT REVILLE, Staff Writer
While some other local theater troupes have thrown in the towel on January performances owing to upticks in COVID transmission, Encore Stage & Studio has taken the phrase “the show must go on” to heart, and has been rewarded with large crowds for its new production of “Commedia Cinderella.”
(Encore may have bested COVID through prudent planning and following health protocols, but couldn’t outmaneuver Mother Nature, whose wintry wrath over the past two weeks caused a number of performances to be canceled. Hopefully this upcoming last week of productions will be free of weather impacts.)
The show, written by Lane Riosley and directed by Susan Keady, is a creative jump for Encore, as it delves into the commedia dell’arte form made popular several hundred years ago in Europe, where traveling bands of actors would set up a stage in search of a paying crowd.
As the second word of the title suggests, the show this particular band of thespians is readying a somewhat loose adaptation of the classic Cinderella tale. The first act of the production is largely the set-up for that performance after intermission.
(If this seems a tad intellectually complex for the Encore target audience of youngsters, they seemed to be handling it just fine. Plus, there was swordplay, ribaldry, some bawdy jokes and even an homage to Chubby Checker thrown into the mix. So much action on stage, and in the aisles, that audience members of all ages were kept engaged.)
It’s complicated to try and explain particular roles, but among the actors, a non-comprehensive list of those I found most engaging included (in no particular order) Henry Gould, Samantha Grooms, Kira Kettler, Vivien Williams, Aidan Pritchard, Batrice Misch, Xander Tilock and Morgan Pletcher.
Encore’s creative staff did itself proud as always. Besides Keady’s taut direction, kudos to Debra Leonard (great costumes), Gary Hauptman (lighting), Kristen Jepperson (set design/build), Matthew Heap (composition) and Kevin Curry (sound).
Arlington Public Schools insists that performers, including fully vaccinated ones, remain masked on its stages – even if those stages are being rented by outside groups – and the edict did muffle some dialogue from my perch near the back of the auditorium. But in general the sound issues were mild.
Overall, the show proved a delightful surprise and a welcome diversion from the blahs of January weather and a pandemic that seems to be taking its time to hit the bricks.
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“Commedia Cinderella” continues – COVID and Mother Nature willing – through Jan. 23 at Gunston Arts Center Theatre I, 2700 South Lang St in Arlington. For tickets and information, see the Website at www.encorestage.org