Atefeh Madi (in veil) as Princess Zehra/Sadness and Makenna Johnson as Ash Girl (Courtesy of Nina Welch)
The moment I entered the Studio Theatre at Saddleback College, it instantly transpired into a mystical forest. White drapes covered the room, projecting a background of a forest and the sound of birds happily singing made me feel as if I was floating gently away on a river. The first scene opens in a kitchen with two sisters, Ruth and Judith tasting the food to their helping. There is a hearth, blanketed in ashes and in the ashes lays a girl. The Ash Girl.
The department of theatre arts at Saddleback College presents The Ash Girl, directed by Marya Mazor. Saddleback student MaKenna Johnson plays the lead role of Ash Girl.
A contemporary twist to the fable Cinderella, Ash Girl tells the story of a girl who yearns to attend the town ball in hopes of meeting the prince. Like Cinderella, the title character has two evil stepsisters and stepmother, animals as friends, a fairy godmother who grants all your wishes, a spellbinding ball and a charming prince but that is where the similarities end.
The mother is not as evil as we have grown up to believe. In fact, she’s quite nice to Ash Girl. She offers Judith and Ruth to help Ash Girl finish cleaning the dishes. And the sisters’ don’t hate Ash Girl, they’re just bored with their average life.
Seven beasts live deep in the forest, each animal characterizing one of the seven deadly sins: Pridefly, Envysnake, Slothworm, Gluttontoad, Greedmonkey, Angerbird, and Lust; each animal poisoning the souls of all the humans.
There is an eighth sin, Sadness. This sin is what haunts Ash Girl throughout the play. She struggles and questions her self worth and Johnson’s extraordinary performance delivers a character one can relate to. Madi’s performance as Sadness captivates not only Ash Girl but the audience as well. Sadness swallows Ash Girl in self doubt in such enhancement, whispering words to Ash Girl the same way all the demons shadow and influence the rest of the characters.
From scene to scene, Sadness appears the most when Ash Girl questions her self value. Whispering and comforting Ash Girl, Sadness is able to convince Ash Girl that her life has no value. When Sadness physically hugs Ash Girl, the interaction references how depression and self doubt can drown a person. Fortunately Ash Girl finds friendship in the animals Owl, Otter, the Fairy in the Mirror and Girl Mouse and Girl Mouse 2 who remind her the importance of hope and love and one’s potential throughout the play.
Ash Girl is not the only one effected by the monsters. Greedmonkey is seen lurking in the shadows of Judith and Ruth, and Envysnake prompts Paul to murder Prince Amir and steal Amir’s lifestyle. Lust’s toxic appearance guides the Man in the Forest to wander aimlessly in their home.
Other cast members include: Natalie Satarzadeah as Ruth, Michelle Meledy as Judith, Joe Fernandez as Prince Amir, Chrisopher Shonafelt as Paul, Noelle Kirby as Mother, Seth Forkish as Slothworm, Theresa Jones Pridefly, Paige Vanderwalker as Fairy in the Mirror, Miriam Chen as Angerbird, Mason Burt as Envysnake, Hailee Donahoe as Lust, Alison Galvin as Girl Mouse, Rachel Thompson as Girl Mouse 2, Eron Rasor as Greedmonkey and Otter, Atefeh Madi as Princess Zehra and Sadness, and Michael Kaye as Gluttontoad, Owl, and Man in Forest.
The Ash Girl runs through March 12. Prices for tickets are $15 general, $12 senior, and $10 for students. You can purchase tickets here.