You know the way young children playing together can get so excited that they seem to be catching joy from one another? Like when they squeal and scream in giggles so gleeful there’s no border between fun and frenzy? — and you, as a grownup watching them, can’t but marvel at the joie de vivre that’s driving their delight? That’s kind of the feel you get when five adults take the stage at Theater Alliance acting like kids who can’t stop laughing. In a mist of stage fog, they circle one another laughing and laughing, then laugh all over at their laughter. As their inscrutable amusement persists, we have no idea what they’re finding so funny. Are we being invited into their play? Or is this mirth of the sort that’s meant only for the young?
So begins Director Johamy Morales’ tenaciously charming production of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s seriously sweet coming-of-age allegory, This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing — the first entry in a season featuring family-friendly productions intended to bring the distinctly socially conscious theater company’s ideals to audiences of all ages. After 20 years of what Artistic Director Raymond O. Caldwell calls “uniquely adult” programming, Theater Alliance now means to inspire “dynamic intergenerational conversations” — the idea being that fairytales, fables, and other such ageless forms of storytelling help shape human empathy for others and oneself, values much needed right now.
There were no children in the audience the night I saw This Girl Laughs…, so I know not what their chat might have been, but I can report with a measure of wonder how the production won over a houseful of grownups who may have begun warily reserved but ended warmly reacquainted with their own and others’ younger selves.
Finegan Kruckemeyer, the author of One Girl Laughs…, “has had 101 commissioned plays performed on six continents and translated into eight languages,” says his bio, and he “is committed to making strong and respectful work for children, which acknowledges them as astute audience members outside the play, and worthy subjects within.” He clearly has a special gift for speaking to kids and grownups at the same time, and his playscript — which is nearly devoid of stage directions — is brimming with wit and wisdom.
The story of One Girl Laughs… is three stories actually: The three children of the title — Albienne, Beatrix, and Carmen — are 11-year-old identical triplets yet are very different from one another. They live with a loving father and mother until suddenly their mother dies. That calamitous moment comes early in the play with a startling sadness that contrasts sharply with the exuberance that has gone before. And then, worse, their father takes a mean new wife who hates them and orders him to abandon them in the forest.
But unlike Hansel and Gretel who meet a wicked witch or Red Riding Hood who meets a big bad wolf, Albienne, Beatrix, and Carmen each chose their own story arc, a life path on which they ultimately meet a truth about themselves. In an adorable nod to female independence and agency, Beatrix decides to venture west around the world (along the way ingeniously turning a lighthouse into a boat); Albienne decides to set off east around the world (along the way being reborn as a leader in war); and Carmen chooses to stay put and make a home (built with the aid of woodland creatures). For 20 years their varied adventures and challenges unfold until at the end they— But no, I won’t say, that would give too much away.
Caldwell saw a previous production directed by Morales and, impressed, invited her to remount it at Theater Alliance with local talent. (Ezinne Elele is Beatrix; Natalia Fyfe is Albienne; Anna Shafer is Carmen; DeJeanette Horne plays the Father and others; Lolita Marie, the Mother and others — a wonderful ensemble if ever there was.) The script is mostly narration; the characters say out loud what’s going on, even as they act it out and bustle about upon a planked stage (designed by Matthew D. McCarren) moving trunks, stools, chairs, boxes, barrels, and other set pieces to show scenes shifting swiftly under lovely light cues (also designed by McCarren). Meanwhile, vivid sounds (designed by Brandon Cook) such as as a horse clip-clopping, a tree falling, or a beautiful string interlude enliven the telling of tales — of which there are quite a lot, perhaps more than anyone of any age can or need keep track of.
Because the point is not the multiplicity of plots; it’s the joy in discovery of self and learning life lessons along the way: “I have reached the top,” says Albienne upon a mountain, for instance. “That was a good thing to say,” Horne as Narrator chimes in, “because that is what a journey must be — a lot of little successes.”
Plus there are lyrical passages that surely light up new neurons in one’s mind, as when Marie as Narrator says:
And then it was Winter – and no one really likes Winter, unless you’re with friends. Winter is a season that exists only so one may think about the past (when it was warmer) or the future (when the warmness will return). Its job is to remind us that life has befores and afters – which is nice to know in those moments when the present isn’t all that good. That is the point of Winter.
Maybe halfway through, the show for a magical moment has a Morales-made musical number. Elele as Beatrix mimes a mic and leads the cast in a ridiculously giddy rendering of “Land of 1000 Dances” — that boppin’ 1960s ode to the mashed potato, the twist, the watusi, etc., and the unadulted fun of singing “Na-na-na-na-na na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na.”
Turns out, there’s an interiority of intergenerational conversing. It’s when one’s own remembered inner youth gets to play and have a say.
Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, no intermission.
EXTENDED: This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing plays through March 25, 2023, presented by Theater Alliance performing at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place SE, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets ($40; $25 student, senior, military) online.
Appropriate for all ages.
The program for This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing is online here.
COVID Safety: At the request of the performers, audiences must remain masked during performances.
This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing
By Finegan Kruckemeyer
Directed by Johamy Morales
Beatrix: Ezinne Elele
Albienne: Natalia Fyfe
Carmen: Anna Shafer
Father/Narrator: DeJeanette Horne
Mother/Narrator: Lolita Marie
DESIGN AND PRODUCTION
Scenic Design by Matthew McCarren
Lighting Design by Matthew McCarren
Sound Design by Brandon Cook
Costume Design by Brandee Mathies
Properties Design by Amy Kellett
Technical Director: Jonathan Dahm Robertson
Master Electrician: Cassandra Saulski
Stage Manager: Genny Ceperley
Assistant Director: Alissa Klusky
Assistant Stage Manager: Jack Skilton
Substitute ASM: Alissa Klusky
Theater Alliance announces family-friendly 20th season (news story, November 18, 2022)