By Michelle Kim
From October 22nd to 25th, Northwood High School’s Theatre Arts performed The Ash Girl, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s famous adaption of the popular story, Cinderella. The story is about a young girl, simply named Ashgirl, who lives wretchedly with her abusive stepsisters and stepmother while in search for her missing father, her only friend. Along the way, she must battle the physical challenges in her life whilst in the process of fighting her own inner demons.
The first act opens up to a small, humble room in which Ashgirl, clad in a dirty dress and shawl, is sitting inconspicuously in the large fireplace. The sleepy atmosphere is suddenly broken when the two loud stepsisters, Ruth and Judith, come bounding down the stairs, screeching and pulling at each other. Garbed in pink, full-skirted dresses and high heels, the girls make fun of Ashgirl for her reclusive ways, attempt to stuff bread into her mouth in degrading way, and shove her down while skipping back up the stairs. Their actions serve to reveal to the audience the cruelty Ashgirl has endured since her father had gone missing, and after her stepsisters’ leave from the stage, she withdraws back into the fireplace, saying that as long as she stays as discreet as the ashes, she will be safe. Suddenly, however, the stepsisters reappear, only this time with the stepmother, who states that they have received an invitation to the prince’s ball, where he will choose a wife. Ashgirl vehemently refuses to go to the ball, angering the stepmother, but offers instead to help the stepsisters with their ball gowns, appeasing the stepmother for the moment.
Prince Amir and Princess Zehra, his mother, argue in their palace about the ball Zehra wants to host. Here, it is revealed that they are exiles from their former country, and Amir still cannot let go of the traditions and hopes of his past life, while Zehra wishes that they could just move on with their lives in the new land. When Paul, Amir’s friend and assistant, cuts in about the usefulness of the forest Zehra now owns, Amir, frustrated with both Paul and Zehra, flees the room, muttering angry words about the new country he is forced to live in.
The next scene cuts to the forest, where the Seven Deadly Sins, Slothworm, Angerbird, Envysnake, Gluttontoad, Pridefly,Greedmonkey, and Lust, and their posses gather to discuss their plan of infiltrating more human minds in each of their respective evils. In the middle of their argument, Sadness steals through the scene, and Pridefly asks her to join their mission. Unlike the others, she has no posse and stands alone without a throne, yet when she merely looks at him, he shrinks away at her stare, signifying the separate, greater power she has over the sins. She then stalks away from the scene, leaving Pridefly to hastily say to the others that she will join soon, when the time is ripe.
Back at the house, Ashgirl is working on the gowns that she promised to help prepare for the ball. Ruth and Judith, fantasizing about the wealth they would acquire if one of them married the prince, do not notice Greedmonkey and his posse enter the house and feed off of their energy, and leave, leaving Ashgirl to her work. Finally in peace, Ashgirl sits quietly with her sewing needle and thread, when suddenly Sadness enters the scene. Uttering a monologue in which Ashgirl senses the demon but cannot see it, Sadness laughs and slides across the table, ready to take Ashgirl for her own, when a cheery voice shouts outside of the window for “Ashy”, and Sadness curses and slinks away as Ashgirl opens the window, allowing an owl to enter. After conversing casually for a few minutes, the owl attempts to convince Ashgirl to attend the ball, to which Ashgirlimmediately retaliates, but somewhat softens to the idea, and ponders upon it.
When walking through the forest, Ashgirl meets a man, who wildly begs for her to leave the forest with him before the demons come back. Ashgirl is frightened at the scruffy figure and flees, leaving the man to the mercy of Lust and her posse. They force him onto the ground and bring their heads close to his head, hissing, as the stage immediately goes pitch-black.
Ashgirl, shaken by the experience in the forest, starts to work on the dresses again, only to be invaded by Sadness. Once again, Sadness whispers dark words to Ashgirl until finally, Ashgirl is extremely close to succumbing, and Sadness reaches out to grab ahold of her victim. Fortunately, a knock is heard at the window, and the excited voice that accompanies it reaches Ashgirl, who shakes off her attacker and allows an Otter to enter, forcing Sadness to back off a few steps. During their conversation, however, Sadness attempts to take Ashgirl again, and nearly succeeds until a voice from the mirror commands Ashgirl to disregard Sadness’s words, and as shining lights flash everywhere, the Fairy of the mirror appears, banishing Sadness with her presence. Convincing Ashgirl to attend the ball, she transforms the Otter into a coachman, two mice into a silver dragon and pony, and a hazelnut into a coach. She also calls forth multiple spiders to weave a lovely, shimmering lilac dress around Ashgirl, and sends Ashgirl off to the ball, thus ending the first act.
Act two starts with the dancers of the ball leaving to supper as Ashgirl enters the ballroom. She bitterly reflects on her past dream of dancing in a ball, which has just been shattered, and is about to leave when the prince comes into the ballroom. They both immediately develop an affection for each other, and hesitantly dance together. Afterwards, they attempt to converse, but both are insecure with the fear that the other thinks that they are boring and odd until the prince invites Ashgirl to supper with him, which she gladly accepts, and goes off together. Meanwhile, the stepsisters plot in the ballroom on how to marry the prince, and are interrupted when the clock chimes twelve, and Ashgirl rushes out of the ballroom with Owl and Otter, losing one of her shoes in the process. Amir bends down to pick up the shoe, but Judith snatches it up and demands a kiss for it. Amir is forced to comply, and Judith childishly tells him that since he has kissed her, he must marry her. The stepsisters run off laughing as Amir holds the shoe, contemplating his lost love.
Ashgirl is lost in the forest, and her remaining shoe slips off as she searches fruitlessly for an exit. Owl, Otter, and the mice all try to get her out, but the Seven Deadly Sins are already looming over her. Sadness comes, and all of the animals flee while the Sins back off. Ashgirl desperately attempts to hold onto her memories of the ball and of happiness, but Sadness drains her of energy, and prevents her from calling out as the prince searches for her in the forest. Fortunately, Ashgirl escapes the clutches of the demons and meets the Fairy of the mirror, who tells her that if she must go back and find the shoe to find her love, she must be brave and resourceful, and gives her a cloak to ward off evil. Meanwhile, the prince is hard at work finding Ashgirl, and his mother tells him that if the girl is found, she must answer three questions, and get them all right in order to marry him. He thoughtlessly allows it, and rushes off.
The stepsisters hear of the prince’s proclamation that if the lady’s foot fits the shoe, they will marry the prince. Unfortunately, their feet do not fit the shoe, and the mother forces one of them to slice off part of their foot in order to fit the shoe. Ashgirl finds her father stranded in the forest and rescues him momentarily from Lust.
The prince and Ashgirl, after much conflict, eventually find each other, and Princess Zehra gives Ashgirl three questions: 1) Why do you love my son?, 2) Will you stay with him forever?, and 3) Are you willing to wear the shoes for the rest of your life? As Ashgirl hesitates on each question, the stepmother shouts that her daughters could answer the questions with ease. However,Ashgirl’s silent responses are the right answer, for Zehra states that there is only mystery in loving someone, and that in order to keep that love, you must cherish your significant other. Zehra pointedly remarks that he should “Never ask her to cut off her foot to fit a shoe from the past”, and gives them her blessing alongside Ashgirl’s father. The fairy of the mirror appears and appropriately punishes the stepsisters and stepmother, thus finishing the play.
Wertenbaker’s work serves to remind people that to love is a complicated and difficult action if not done correctly, and that even in the darkest of times, hope can still be found, even in the memories of those you love.