The fall of the Iron Curtain has not diminished the power of Janusz Glowacki's "Cinders," as evidenced by director Jeffrey Horne's tautly staged revival for Spring Theatreworks.
An inversion of the "Cinderella" fairy tale, Glowacki's play takes the audience to a girls' reform school in Poland during Communist rule. When the school's principal decides to stage a production of the story, a film director descends on the school to make a documentary about the process and production. The girl playing Cinderella refuses to bend under his manipulative techniques, designed to get the students to weep and reveal themselves in the film. As a result, she finds herself falling from her status as belle of the ball to beleaguered victim.
Karen Allen nicely captures the essence of Cinderella's nascent pubescence, as well as her preternatural maturity, shifting from coyness to bitter irony to frightening effect as she navigates the brutality of the adults and her peers. Matthew Drennan balances oiliness, egoism, and malice to make his portrayal of the cinematographer compellingly repugnant.
As the school's principal, Doug Simpson uses facial tics and an affected, high-pitched voice to give the audience a sad portrayal of the character's impotence in a lunatic Communist bureaucracy. Scott Thomas Hinson finds subtle variations on sadism as the principal's superior.
The girls, wearing white shirts and too-revealing red wool miniskirts from costume designer Jessica Steele, become almost indistinguishable child sex objects. Standouts are Erin Treadway's swaggering Prince, Jennifer Naso's sassy Fairy Godmother, and Kelly Reeves' mewling Second Ugly Sister. It's horrifying to watch as these girls turn on Cinderella.
Matt Gratz's lighting emphasizes shadows on Jonathan Collins' spare, linoleum-tiled set. These elements combine with Horne's staccato direction and Stephen Pietrowski's eerie, discordant nursery-rhyme songs to send the audience from the theatre reeling.