the houston press She doesn’t usually cover children’s theater, but when Afsaneh Aayani, multiple Houston Theater Award nominee, creates a play for people “two to 100 years old”, it definitely piques our interest.
Based on the ancient Persian fairy tale. ma pishooni, this early version of Cinderella is one of Aayani’s favorites. When she was a child in Iran, her first introduction to theater was seeing a production of mah. He transformed her. Later, she acted in another production and was hooked. The theater would now be her home. This is what she wanted to do, she told her during a short introductory speech before her show.
If you’ve been on the Houston stage for the past several years, you’ve been fascinated by his exquisite taste and discriminating eye for set and costume design. Remember those neon-rimmed church arches on cupcake bookthe dystopian future smeared with graffiti on dog lawthe white and sterile coldness of The effectthe confused inner mind of 4:48 Psychothe ever-present clocks in the christmas shoesthe doors of the Acropolis inspired by the vagina in lysistratathe Stonehenge and Flash Gordon costumes of the pagans King Lear? These are classic examples of Aayani’s fertile imagination and keen mind in distilling the essence of the work into the visual.
She is, of course, a master puppeteer, and she shines here in Princess. Adapted by Geoffrey Douglas and presented by The City of Houston and the Houston Arts Alliance, the fairy tale works its innocent magic in about 45 minutes. That’s just right for the little ones, and a wonderful respite for us a little older. There was a young man in the front row who was absolutely mesmerized by the action on stage. He stood in front of the footlights and smirked, clapping his hands, dancing, all while he stared intently at the actors. She couldn’t get enough of that. Aayani’s avatar?
Although the light game could support some clarity (or perhaps narration) in the first scenes (the motivations of the shadow puppets were a bit confusing and it was difficult to understand what was happening), in the end, however, the moral becomes clear, the plot solidifies, and everyone goes home happy as if they were four years old.
There’s an evil stepmother in a red scary wig and veil (Cynthia Garcia), an ugly stepsister whose evil ways will force a snake to sprout from her forehead (Sloane Teagle’s groovy voice), the purple Ghoul with separate spinning head who lives in a well (Alli Villiers), the River Spirit frog, also known as the Fairy Godmother, (Clarity Welch), the friendly cow that cries pearls; and the selfless noble hero Banoo (Chaney Moore) who faces a series of dangerous adventures to save the day, save herself and, most importantly, save others.
The puppet theater is smart; the puppets, designed by Sasha Blaschka, are a delight to the eye; and there’s enough sarcasm in the script to satisfy the most irritable of adults. Stefan Azizi’s wispy set design is a series of hanging curtains that resemble the jagged entrance to a magical circus. Alexander Schumann’s lighting is fairytale-bright, and Gage Baker’s sound design is fragrantly atmospheric, from the wind, rushing river to a frog’s call. Best of all, perhaps, is Hessam Dianpour’s original score that jumps from the Iranian flute (two played at once, amazing) to Bollywood and Hollywood in the easiest of transitions. The constant underline is a great equalizer, giving us all a taste of the fantastic.
This sweet story, sweetened by Aayani’s imagination, quickly transports us to the innocence and wonder of childhood, where evil lurks but goodness prevails. Stay strong and true to yourself, be kind to others, and Prince Charming may turn out to be you.
The Moonlit Princess continues through September 17 at 7:30 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and Sundays at 2:30 pm at Rec Room Arts, 100 Jackson. For more information, call 713-344-1291 or visit recroomarts.org. Tickets are general admission and prices are based on Pay What You Can tiers.
The suggested price is $40, as it will cover operating expenses.