Zach Theatre's Cenicienta wondrously conjures the enchantment of Cinderella's tale and a child's imagination
Reviewed by Elissa Russell, Fri., May 15, 2015
Engaging children in the arts can sometimes be a difficult endeavor, but one that most would agree is essential. Cultivating a love for the theatre at a young age may be especially tricky, as their attention spans do not always allow for sitting still and remaining attentive throughout a full-length play. When I attended Zach Theatre's Cenicienta – its bilingual revamp of the classic Cinderella story – perhaps my biggest takeaway was the show's ability to keep the whole audience rapt throughout the entirety of the tale. More impressive still, this audience was evenly split between adults and very young children, and that the afternoon's entertainment rested on the small but capable shoulders of Gricelda Silva, the only actor in the show.
Cenicienta accomplishes what children's theatre should at its best: providing an imaginative tale that's captivating for children and adults alike, while incorporating cultural and educational facets that pique curiosity and invite further investigation. A collaboration with Teatro Vivo, with script by Rupert Reyes and Caroline Reck, who also directed, the production is rife with Spanish phrases, but not so many so that nonspeakers would find themselves confused. It perfectly embraces Austin's Mexican-American culture but also provides an educational outlet for those looking to brush up on their Spanish (as was the case for a group of adults seated next to me).
The story itself is as entertaining as it is educational. Silva portrays Belinda, a wide-eyed 10-year-old who has been relegated to the basement while her stepmother and stepsisters prepare to host a party for writer Gary Soto. A lover of reading and poetry, Belinda wants desperately to attend the party and share her own writings with Soto, but, like Cenicienta before her, she requires a bit of magic to get her happy ending. It's a finely crafted story within a story; Belinda lives out her version while also reenacting the classic tale, using whatever objects are at her disposal: napkins, teapots, and doilies, to name a few. Silva's stamina and childlike wonder run high from start to finish, whether she's voicing multiple characters, tangoing alone, or reciting Belinda's simple but powerful poetry. A gifted storyteller and an experienced puppeteer, Silva's performance is never dull, effortlessly capturing the play's humor and sentimentality.
Afterward, Silva poses questions to the youngest members of her audience, discussing themes and favorite moments. Seeing her interact with the children and hearing their thoughts on the performance was a special reinforcement of the power of well-executed children's theatre. Speaking of favorite moments, mine occurred during the talkback, when a tiny fan raised her hand to ask Belinda for a hug.
CenicientaZach Theatre Whisenhunt Stage, 1510 Toomey, 512/476-0541
Through May 23
Running time: 1 hr.