KPBS AIRDATE: September 26, 2003
Once upon a time… there was a beautiful princess, asleep under a spell, waiting for the kiss that would revive her and restart her life. Only this time, she’s not slumbering in the woods or in a castle. She’s onstage at La Jolla Playhouse. The ancient tale of Sleeping Beauty is made fresh, modern, and achingly relevant by theater wizard Tina Landau, who wrote and directed the world premiere, “Beauty.” The story is told in two different times, two different places. But when the heart is true and the spirit is willing, love conquers all. That’s one premise of Landau’s magical, mythical creation. Another focus is the Crone, seen in many traditions not as the witch, hag or invisible older woman she has become in our culture, but as the wise, ancient holy one who possesses the power of age and time, retribution and transformation. This is our narrator, Constance, a self-confessed crone, part fairy, part jilted lover, part protector/part imprisoner of the princess, and, in good part, a liberator of souls. It was Constance, lashing out at the King for rejecting her, who cast the spell on the princess. Having been pricked by the spindle, as prophesied, Rose has been asleep for 1000 years. She wants to awaken, but not as a vapid, subservient beauty; she wants freedom, equality, liberation. We’ve already met her liberator, James, a modern-day seeker armed with cellphone. He enters into a quest to find the woman who haunts his dreams.
Metaphorically, the play takes off from the notion that Beauty is asleep in the world, and goes on to confront the idea of being receptive to Love, ready to receive the awakening kiss, to take a leap into the unknown. Landau’s brilliant creation is far more Joseph Campbell than Grimm Brothers or Disney. It’s a dreamscape, a contemporary myth about faith and love, fantasy and reality, independence and perseverance, being asleep or being alive. The play awakens the prince or princess or crone in each of us… the seeker, the sought, the sage. In glorious stage pictures and lyrical language, we learn that each of us has to be willing to go through briars and brambles to find truth, beauty, honesty, self-fulfillment and love.
The production is gorgeous to behold — simple, symbolic, stylized, enigmatic, musical and irresistible. The set, designed by Riccardo Hernandez, suggests both the soft green of nature and the metal angularity of an urban landscape. The lighting and costumes enhance the imagery and illusion. The three central characters are charismatic and emblematic: gifted actor-singers Jason Daniely and Kelli O’Hara as James and Rose, and the grounded but enchanting Lisa Harrow as Constance. The robust ensemble includes five talented UCSD graduate students, who were part of Landau’s workshop of the play here two years ago. There is something so primal here — so deep within our collective consciousness that you cannot walk away unmoved, unprovoked undazzled. Of course, there is a Moral. And a luminous final image. And then, The End.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.