Beauty and the Beast

Local Arts Reviews

Exhibitionism

'Beauty and the Beast': True Enchantment

Dougherty Arts Center, through Oct. 12

Running Time: 1 hr., 40 min.

Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees. Maybe we can't see the lover that we've dreamed of all our lives for the friend who's right there in front of us. Maybe we can't see someone's forgiveness of our faults because they're standing by us no matter what we do. Maybe we can't see the true enchantment of a fairy tale for all the trappings of magic that make such stories so fantastically appealing.

Blessedly, this last bit of myopia never applies to Allen Robertson's musical adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, especially in this sensitive revival by Second Youth Family Theatre. Here, there is no hulking, fur-covered brute, no anthropomorphic cutlery, no dazzling transformation into handsome prince to divert our attention from the heart of the story. What supernatural elements there are are rendered with the simplicity that marks Second Youth's theatrical vision: Masked actors, artfully posed and making subtle movements of the hand and eye, provide the living statuary of the Beast's castle. A half-mask of sharply angled, vaguely leonine features turns actor Greg Holt into the cursed creature of the title.

With these understated yet skillful touches, we can embrace the fancy of the setting while focusing more directly on its title characters. Beauty is a young woman who loves her home (despite the presence of two pouty, pampered sisters, amusingly played by Christiana Little and Joeleen L. Ornt). Still like many a young heroine, she can't help yearning for the world beyond her back door -- wondering what it must be like to be rich, to be brave, to be in love. She ventures to the castle ruled by the Beast as a means of saving her father, but it is also the means by which she takes her first steps into the larger world. Bridget Lee fills Beauty with an irrepressible joy, at any moment a smile that she cannot suppress spreading across her face, bathing her features in cheerful radiance.

By contrast, Holt's Beast is all but frozen. It isn't just that the actor's features are covered by a mask; everything about Holt -- his carriage, gestures, speech -- suggests someone who has sealed himself beneath a covering of ice, who will not let himself move freely, express affection, feel joy. The sense of repression is deepened whenever one peers into Holt's eyes, which are cloudy with regret, the cost of sins for which he cannot forgive himself or believe another will forgive him.

These two figures grapple with their feelings for each other in songs with melodies as simple and tender as lullabies and yet the emotional and structural complexity of Sondheim ballads. Director J. Richard Smith stages their story with the elegance and grace of a dance, following the flow of Robertson's fluid musical lines and using the depth of the Dougherty stage to create lovely images in front of and behind Brandon Tijerina's swaths of indigo and violet fabric draping the proscenium arch and dividing the stage space. With Laura J. Sandberg's soft, spare lighting, they land us in a twilight world, a place of mystery and possibility.

Second Youth's Beauty and the Beast is no less magical than other versions of the tale, but its gaze is locked on those two figures who struggle so before they see that the thing they most desire and need is right before their eyes. The result is that we see clearly two hearts discovering each other, and what an enchanting vision that is.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Beauty and the Beast, Allen Robertson, Second Youth Family Theatre, Greg Holt, Bridget Lee, J. Richard Smith, Brandon Tijerina, Laura J. Sandberg, Christiana Little, Joeleen L. Ornt

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