Gricelda Silva comes into the theater in the round of Whisenhunt Stage and begins to fold napkins quietly. She leaves and returns and leaves again. With each time, the room of early elementary school kids get quieter and quieter. Then she crawls into a sleeping bag and acts like a worm.
The kids are laughing loudly by this point. Now that she has their attention, she starts a modern bilingual version of the Cinderella story in "Cenicienta" from Zach Theatre in partnership with Teatro Vivo and Glass Half Full Theatre.
The play is a play within a play. Belinda (Gricelda Silva) is playing in the basement while her step-mother and step-sisters are upstairs getting beautiful for a party. She has been told to fold 151 napkins for the party and help the step-sisters find their dresses, but she’s not been invited to the party.
She loves to write stories and poems and shares that she has written a special poem about her mother and a poem about her father. Her step-mother has sent off the poem to a famous poet who is coming to the party, and is Belinda’s favorite poet.
Then Belinda begins to tell the story of Cenicienta using objects found in the trunks of the basement. A napkin with a napkin ring becomes Cenicienta. Funnels with doilies as dresses become the step-mother and step-sisters. Silver tea pots and candle holders become royalty at the ball and the prince is an ornate magnifying glass. The fairy godmother is a white teapot turned upside down.
Belinda plays with the objects and tells the story just as the audience might do with objects in their rooms.
Back in the world upstairs, the famous poet arrives and asks to meet the girl who wrote the poem. The step-sisters, who don’t speak Spanish, cannot pronounce many of the words in the poem. The famous poet doesn’t believe them. Finally, Cenicienta encourage Belinda to have the courage to go upstairs and take credit for her poem and share the second part.
The play, which is about 45-minutes long, finds creative ways to get the Spanish and English into the script without feeling repetitious. One of Belinda’s confidants is a two-headed lamp. One head speaks Spanish and one English. Some of the guests at the ball speak Spanish, some speak English. Belinda goes back and forth effortlessly.
The audience I saw it with were glued to the action sequences, finding humor when Belinda did very human things like dump over one of the funnels from its chair perch or act like a horse. They loved the humor of the over-dramatic ball dances.
When wiggles set in during exposition passages, the audience quickly came back to attention when the action picked back up.
The wonder of "Cenicienta" is the ability of its audiences to identify with Belinda. It embraces her creativity and her love of reading. It revels in the joy of playing with found objects and creating a story. It teaches lessons in the importance of reading and writing and the importance of being courageous and standing up for yourself as well as loving who you are, but it doesn’t hit kids over the head with those lessons. Instead, they laugh and giggle at Belinda as a worm, a horse, a dramatic story teller.
If your kids come expecting Disney’s "Cinderella," they might leave disappointed. This is not that story. Instead, it’s a more authentic story about a girl and a dream to be seen as something more than the ignored other sister. And her Cenicienta is not about meeting a handsome prince. Instead she wants to meet someone who is kind and fun and interesting like herself and she does.