Fairy tales are often the best way to teach life-lessons to children as well as adults, given the universality of their themes and outside heroes and heroines. These enduring stories are cloaked in humor and magic, despite the darkness beneath the adventures, making them just as ideal for the stage as is literature.
So it’s no wonder that Wellesley Repertory Theatre chose to present Finegan Kruckemeyer’s dramatic fable “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Says Nothing” in its New England premiere. The works of Kruckemeyer, a prize-winning playwright based in Tasmania, Australia, have been produced on five continents and translated into six languages. However, like many of the plays that have made his reputation, “This Girl Laughs” seems aimed at young audiences which made this critic wish there were children in the audience last Friday night, not just adults.
The play follows the fortunes - and misfortunes - of three triplets, sisters who are abandoned in the woods at age 12 by their wimp of a father and his second wife, a Disney-like caricature of a mean stepmother. As the girls huddle under a tree in the cold, unwelcoming landscape, each one chooses to follow a different pathway into the future. The eldest, Albienne (J Taylor D’Andrea) goes off to a life of combat, bringing justice to the downtrodden with her strong sword, ala Joan of Arc. Beatrix, the middle sister (Meredith Gosselin) looks to the sun, first devising a boat to carry her across the ocean to a far shore where her optimistic spirit gives hope to those she encounters. Carmen (Erin Eva Butcher), the youngest, stays right where she was left and eventually befriends the animals of the forest, builds a house and cares for the needy (and often greedy) neighbors in the nearby village. Twenty years pass before the sisters are reunited for a happy ending.
Director, Marta Rainer, chose to dodge the sadness beneath the chronicle of the sisters’ lives, and emphasize their self-satisfaction at solving the problems they faced on their journeys. Surely, the sisters were bereft at losing their mother, terrified at being left in the woods by a father who should have protected them, made lonely at their separation, and weary from their long voyages, but these feelings were barely expressed. Butcher as Carmen was the most believable of the sisters in her struggle to overcome the challenges of her life alone. The excellent ensemble of actors surrounding the sisters took turns at narrating the story, effectively changing into specific characters as needed.
Several memorable scenes included the entire cast ranging across the stage in a dramatic battle choreographed by fight director Sarah Flanagan, and the lovely singing by the sisters of their plaintive ballad, “I am a woman” (music arranged by Dan Prior to lyrics by Kruckemeyer).
The decor took off from picture-book illustrations for the settings designed by Janie E. Howland, and fairy-tale generic costumes devised by Chelsea Kerl. The props ranged from clever, such as the lighthouse turned topsy-turvy into a boat, to cutesy for the stuffed animals that populate the forest surrounding Carmen’s house. Ensemble member John Davin’s cynical and hilarious badger might have been accompanied by the other actors set loose in the forest rather than the handful of toys.
Kruckemeyer’s play fits squarely into the long tradition of sending heroes off on a journey only to find happiness back home as retold many times in plays like Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1908 classic, “The Blue Bird,” up to J.R.R. Tolkien’s cult-favorite, “The Hobbit,” recently transformed into film. Adults who do not shrink from whimsy and can find a child to bring along will find much to admire in “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girls Does Nothing.”