Following a successful two-week debut run, Nashville Stagecraft's 'Cindy & Ella' will take to the 4th Story Theatre stage at West End UMC for one final time on Friday, August 22 at 7p.m. This special pay-as-you-can encore performance will also serve as a going away party for the play's co-writer, JP Schuffman as he prepares to relocate to Dallas, TX.
'Cindy & Ella', as the title might suggest is a new take on the classic fairtytale 'Cinderella'. Yes the story contains obvious nods to elements present in the familiar Cinderella story like enchanted slippers, a wicked stepmother, a charming stranger, and even a sometimes-helpful talking mouse. Playwrights Schuffman and his co-writer Sara Gaddis, who also serves as the show's director, do one better by cleverly weaving other iconic fairytale elements into the story. There's a wink to 'Snow White' with a mention of a possibly poisoned apple. The presence of an axe could be a nod to the woodsman from 'Sleeping Beauty'. Unseen but oft-mentioned townspeople, Mrs. Hubbard and Jack are also synonymous to popular children's stories. Fairytales aren't the only things cleverly references in 'Cindy & Ella', there's even a not-so-obvious tip of the hat to one of the South's most prolific storytellers in the first name of the show's primary villain, Eudora 'Momma' Gourd (played to the pinnacle of evil by Lanie Shannon) seems to pay homage to famed novelist Eudora Welty, at least to the well-read set.
As for Gaddis and Schuffman's retelling, these familiar references are pretty much where the similarities end. Thankfully, 'Cindy & Ella' is just as grim as any real Grimm fairytale. As the play begins, Momma Gourd and her daughter, Ella (sweetly played by Harley Walker) serve as exposition to the story as they attend the funeral of Cindy's (Lucy Turner) mother. In an effort to help out, or more truthfully, help themselves, Momma Gourd conveniently reveals that prior to Cindy's Mother's death, arrangements had been made for Momma and Ella to come live with Cindy's family. As the story unfolds, it's learned that Momma's previous husband died as mysteriously as Cindy's mother, linking the two women in a gruesomely unexpected way.
Anyone who's actually read an old fairytale knows that the heroines are not all singing birds and bliss. From her first scene, in which she stares right through audience members--yes, I made eye contact with her right from the get-go--while she 'talks' to her dead mother, Turner's Cindy is reminiscent of a young Dakota Fanning. She's got a spooky intensity hovering just beneath her sweet childlike looks. That attribute is perfectly fitting considering Cindy isn't exactly the put-upon stepchild from the Disney version.
At one point in the play, Cindy mentions that her cousin just might be enchanted, but if you're thinking of the recent life-action fairtytale, 'Ella Enchanted', think again. Momma may or may not have enchanted her daughter Ella in order to have her assistance in getting Cindy out of the picture in order to secure a new life for her and her own daughter. With Cindy's never-seen, but oft-mentioned father quickly out of the picture, Momma sees visit from the handsome Mr. Price (Adam Bridges) as an opportunity to realize her dreams.
That's right, Mr. Price represents the ever-present fairytale Prince. While he's certainly charming, it should come as no shock that in this dark tale, he's no prince. Nonetheless, our 'three blind mice' (yes, the play contains a carving-knife reference) all see him as their salvation in one way or another.
In addition to a superbly twisted story with several unexpected subplots and revelations throughout, 'Cindy & Ella' is aesthetically pleasing thanks to minute details to everything from props and costumes--notably the not-so-subtle use of a red ribbon representing Ella's virtue--to a stripped-down, but very effective set and some spot-on lighting.
Even though Schuffman is headed to Dallas, with Gaddis joining him in the months to come, Friday night's encore presentation of 'Cindy & Ella' isn't the last Nashville will hear from Nashville Stagecraft's up-and-coming theatrical duo. On Thursday, August 28, Gaddis' 'Violets Are' will be one of the featured new works presented at 12 & Broad's Playwrights in the Round. In preparation for this review, I spoke with Gaddis who assured me that Nashville's loss with be Dallas' gain as she and Schuffman are also hard at work on new projects they plan to showcase as part of Dallas' burgeoning performance art scene.
Again, 'Cindy & Ella' will present a final pay-as-you-can performance Friday night at 7p.m. in the 4th Story Theatre of West End UMC located at 2200 West End Avenue, Nashville, TN 37203. For more information about Nashville Stagecraft, CLICK HERE. To purchase tickets to see 'Violets Are' and the other new works presented by local Nashville playwrights, CLICK HERE.
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