Friday, May 13, 2016

A High-Flying Princess

by Kat Zukaitis

Once upon a time, a young princess was placed under a magical curse that could only be broken by the power of true love.

This is that story… sort of.

In The Light Princess, a barren King and Queen turn to the Queen’s sister—a Witch—for help having a child. They are overjoyed when a baby girl arrives, even though she seems unusually cheerful… and unusually light. In fact, she floats! The Witch has taken away the Princess’ gravity, both physical and emotional: she cannot touch the ground, and she cannot feel any truly weighty emotions, such as fear, sadness or love. If the Princess cannot find her gravity before her sixteenth birthday, the Witch will take over the kingdom, and the Princess will remain weightless forever.

Angela Balogh Calin’s costume design for the Princess.
As the Princess’ sixteenth birthday approaches, her parents desperately dream up ways to weigh her down. They try to make her cry, to no avail, for nothing can make the Princess truly sad. The Queen realizes that her own tears stem not from sadness, but from love. Perhaps the thing that will give the Princess gravity is falling in love!
But the Princess doesn’t want to fall in love. She wants to swim in the lake, the one place where she feels the weight of the water. One day, a wandering Prince—who would rather be a musician—hears her splashing and sets out to save her from drowning. Instead of a grateful damsel, though, he finds a furious Princess who wants nothing to do with him. She hates suitors and wants to return to her lake. He’s not a suitor, he insists, and he hates Princesses. But as the two of them fall back into the lake, they also begin a much more terrifying journey—they begin to fall in love. 

Back at the castle, the King announces a suitor competition, promising the Princess’ hand in marriage to any man who can keep her on the ground, even if it means chaining her to the floor. Meanwhile, the Witch bespells the Prince to drain the Princess’ beloved lake—and with it, all the water in the kingdom. There’s only one way to protect the lake, but it may cost the Prince his life. Can the Princess find her gravity—and save the day—before it’s too late?

Angela Balogh Calin’s costume design for the Prince.
Playwright Lila Rose Kaplan and composer/lyricist Mike Pettry adapted The Light Princess from a 19th century fairy tale by George McDonald, adding a few twists of their own along the way. This Princess is no damsel in distress waiting for a rescue; she is a young woman who must rely on her own wisdom to try to save herself, her Prince and her kingdom. Director Casey Stangl calls the play a “fractured fairy tale” for the way it assembles classic fairy tale elements—a witch, a cursed princess, a prince in disguise—and recombines them into a story about growing up and learning the value of sadness as well as joy. For the Princess, the path to adulthood means embracing both tears and laughter as integral parts of the human experience. “It’s an important story for children,” says Stangl, “and also adults!”

For the SCR production, Stangl wanted to find a way to keep the Princess aloft without wires, looking instead for a “theatrical metaphor” for flight. As luck would have it, the literary staff at SCR had recently been in touch with a choreographer and AcroYoga instructor named Ezra Lebank, the Head of Movement at California State University, Long Beach. Stangl went to see a workshop featuring Lebank and two accomplished Cal State Long Beach theatre students, Taylor Casas and Cynthia Price, and knew that she’d found the way to make her Princess fly.

In The Light Princess, Casas and Price play “gravitrons,” using their expertise in dance and AcroYoga to keep the Princess aloft. With their help, and that of choreographer Rebecca Nakano, SCR newcomer Arielle Fishman floats and soars across the stage as the Princess, her feet (almost) never touching the ground. Stangl felt that it was especially important for this story about a young woman’s empowerment to feature other young woman “lifting their sister up,” so to speak. Add in Mike Pettry’s irresistible music, which is sweeping and silly by turns, and this show really takes off!

Fran├žois-Pierre Couture’s set design for The Light Princess.
Fishman, Casas and Price are joined onstage by Gina D’Acciaro, making her SCR debut as a very sassy Witch, as well as several actors known and loved by SCR audiences: Ann Noble as the Queen, Justin Figueroa as the Prince, Joel Gelman and Emily Eiden as the Wisemen and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, returning for his eighth SCR show, as the King.

SCR audiences will also recognize director Casey Stangl, whose work here includes several TYA productions, most recently The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and James and the Giant Peach; last season’s Venus in Fur; and the upcoming world premiere of The Siegel. Deborah Wicks LaPuma (musical direction), Fran├žois-Pierre Couture (scenic design), Angela Balogh Calin (costume design), Karyn Lawrence (lighting design) and Jeff Polunas (sound design) round out the creative team, helping to bring this delightfully imaginative—and unconventional—fairy tale with music to life.

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