BEAUTY

is now widely felt that folk tales such as The Sleeping Beauty come from someplace way down in the soul and memory of humankind. Their interpretation, like that of dreams, is subject to endless palaver from the likes of Carl Jung, Bruno Bettelheim, Joseph Campbell, and anybody else with a theory to spin. But the true magic still resides in the telling alone. And that is the strength and theatrical enchantment of Tina Landau's world-premiere retelling—as playwright and as director—of the story of the dormant princess, her persistent suitors, and the ancient supernatural female being who cast the spell on her. Landau herself seems to have some theories to spin—and with an admirably feminist slant to them. And that's a good thing to give her telling some heft. But in the long run it does not matter one jot whether the slumbering lovely, Rose, is made a delightfully feisty hoyden who rejects the somnolent passivity of her role (perfectly captured in the determined stride of Kelli O'Hara's portrayal). It also matters not whether Constance, the ageless fairy/crone/enchantress (played with dangerous glee by Lisa Harrow), is given various angry sexual issues of her own, or whether the crone ends up enunciating a forgettable "moral" to the tale, which leaves her sounding like Alice's Duchess ("'Tis so," said the Duchess: "And the moral of that is: 'Oh, 'tis love, 'tis love, that makes the world go round.'") Despite the fancy window dressing, Landau hews fairly close to the Grimm brothers' Brier Rose story. Her brilliant narrative stroke is to make it take place in some hyper-dimensional dreamtime, like the timeless and somehow erotic realm of faerie—explored in Caryl Churchill's The Skriker, as well—where so many mortals have had close shaves with the supernatural: the old ballad's Thomas Rymer, Shakespeare's Bottom, Keats' knight-at-arms, Allingham's little Bridget. The final and successful suitor, James (Jason Danieley), is, instead of a prince, a contemporary university student who accidentally stumbles into the 1,000-year brambles of Rose's comatose castle the way you'd find Narnia in the back of wardrobe, shedding his modern accoutrements—books, backpack, cellphone—as he penetrates deeper into the mystery. With playwright Landau as her own director, word and image become ideally one—with Riccardo Hernandez's abstract settings, Scott Zielinski's dreamy lighting design, and Melina Root's mix of ancient and modish costumes—evoking the collision of myth and modernity. David Ari, Corey Brill, Simone Vicari Moore, Adam Smith, and Amy Stewart gracefully perform the shifting roles of the ensemble, as well as singing the original music of sound designers Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, accompanied by musician Richard Tibbitts. And all join together in Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," quoted to wonderful moody effect throughout the show and sung entirely as a glorious finale. "Beauty," presented by and at La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Rd., La Jolla. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Sep. 21-Oct. 19. (858) 550-101