Steve Wagner Photography
The play with the long name at the Beck Center is really good
"Thrice upon a time..." That's how the fairytale begins and why not, since it involves ten-year-old triplets who are abandoned by their widowed woodcutter father in the forest and left to fend for themselves. The three girls follow in the steps of other famous fairytale trios, such as the three bears, but this time we're on a journey to independence and self-hood.
As produced at the Beck Center, the laborious and essentially inaccurate title—This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, and This Girl Does Nothing—is playwright Finegan Kruckmeyer's worst mistake, since his play exudes charm by the barrelful thanks to a clever script and an always engaging performance by Derdriu Ring. The decision to make it a one-woman show was likely prompted, at least in part, by COVID concerns. And that's understandable.
Ring, an accomplished actor, winds the audience around her as she relates the stories of Abilenne, Beatrix and Carmen as they boldly go off in different directions. Abilenne heads east, at first in search of cakes to eat, dropping cherry tree seeds along the way like a version of Johnny Appleseed. But when Abby Cherryseed encounters a town being attacked by Vikings (not the Minnesota kind), she finds her true calling as a warrior woman and a leader, armed with a sword and grim determination.
Meanwhile her sister Beatrix journeys in the opposite direction in search of sunlight. Drawn to a pulsating light, she finds a lighthouse where a curmudgeonly old woman shares some biscuits, and they catch some fish in a net. But true to the fanciful events in fairytales, the fish pull the lighthouse into the ocean, and it becomes a submarine in which Beatrix and the crone begin to travel the world. She eventually hits land and becomes famous for her ability to bring sunny song and dance to towns bereft of such delights.
The youngest girl, Carmen, decides to stay put in the forest and she develops some practical skills for survival, including killing and eating a variety of her adorable woodland neighbors. She eventually begs their forgiveness, and she becomes friends with them all except for a grudge-bearing badger who sulks in the corner, slinging pebbles and making rude paw gestures at Carmen and others.
Taken together, this is a rich stew of storytelling and Ring animates it all with good humor and unfailing warmth. But this play is usually performed by three different actors playing the girls who age 21 years. Working with a single performer, it's hard for director Eric Schmeidl to differentiate the three girls along with the narrator. And without different costumes this fairy tale becomes a bit monochromatic, even though it is punctuated by Mark DeVol's handsome scenic design featuring a stand of white birch trees.
Eventually the girls reunite with their father, without a single "What the fuck, dad, you left us in a forest?!" issued by any of the abandoned daughters. And that's how child abuse is handled in the land to fairy tales.
Although the show, which is appropriate for children, would probably work better with 20 minutes or so lopped off, the stories resonate and these three girls become women with strong independent identities and defined purposes. And that's a damn sight better than all those old fairytale gals who relied on their beauty and submissiveness to win the day. In that, they join other strong fairytale heroines from Hansel's sis, the witch-killer Gretel, to Princess Elsa and Moana. You go, girls!
This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing
Through August 8 at the Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540, beckcenter.org.