Glassheart: Everyday Inferno Sputters With Beauty and Love
Now if i’m not mistaken, in the classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast (published in 1740), which the new play, Glassheart by Reina Hardy is based upon, a Prince is turned into a hideous beast after he refuses to let a fairy in from the rain. Only by finding true love, despite his appearance, will the curse be lifted. In the original by the French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneauve, Beauty is the young daughter destined by circumstances surrounding her father and a storm (I’m not going to get too deep into the plot here, just watch the lovely film starring Emma Watson), to live out her days with the Beast as his mistress. In the French tale, he asks her to marry him every night, only to be refused by Beauty, because Beauty dreams of a handsome prince who she thinks is locked away somewhere in the castle. There is no talk of transformed servants in the original story, only that they are invisible to the eye and bring Beauty everything she wishes, but in the Disney versions, the servants were turned into household inanimate objects such as tea pots, clocks, and a feisty candelabra who goes by the name of Lumiere. They all are invested in the curse being broken, because they too want to return to their human form, and go back to living life. If the curse is never broken, and the last petal falls, these loving servants lose all human qualities and truly become inanimate. It’s a clever addition to the centuries old tale by the wise creators at Disney, one that adds to the team effort to lift the spell for all.
Hardy, in an attempt to fiddle with the classic tale, alters two components in order to explore the life-altering power of love, what sacrifices might be made in search of an ordinary life, and what and where does the value of this so-called ordinary existence reside. She suggests in the opening moments, that Beauty and love have not been found, and years and years have gone by with the Beast in isolation, reading about love, but slowly cutting him off more and more from humanity. ‘Despair’ is what he growls out into the universe as he wallows on the floor. The servant that has stayed with him, is the polar opposite of Lumiere, she is a lamp made human by the curse, there to shed light and care on her troubled master. They have decided to leave the castle after centuries of waiting, losing hope with every year, and move into an apartment in modern day Chicago. The Beast, played loudly and boldly by Christopher Alexey Diaz (Claudio in The Night Shift’s Measure for Measure) is first seen weeping in the corner of this antiquatedly furnished apartment, surrounded by the books he loves, and the rose bush he cherishes (although I’m not sure why as it doesn’t seem to have the same heightened magical purpose in this re-telling). The Lamp, portrayed brightly by Maghann Garmany (Regina Robbins’ Quicksand) arrives with suitcases and the cheeriest demeanor imaginable. She attempts to embody what a lamp would be like as a human, although maybe a bit too rigidly and constantly throughout. But she does have optimistic hope that this modern new world will bring love to their door, and the curse will be broken. The perplexing question that presents itself in this reworking, is what will happen to her if the Beast does find love? Will she be content to return to the world of the inanimate object? (Takes me back to that funny interesting play about Objectum Sexuality that I saw a while back called Inanimate.)
All of this backstory is addressed quite clearly and succinctly within the first few minutes of this one-act 110 minute play. The set by Caitlynn Barrett is inventive and fairly clever, with playful use of lamps throughout. The lighting was a bit wobbly from moment to moment but it was the first preview, so I’m hoping designer Ali Hall, along with sound designer and composer Sam Kaseta tighten up their game moving forward. I’m not sure why the walls were segmented, as it was distracting with the first few entrances and exits as we could see the actors positioning themselves before their arrival, but it did hold a purpose later, when Aoife, played the most effectively by Carey Cox (PlayMakers Rep’s Seminar) arrives, and eventually, in true French fairy tale manner, tries unsuccessfully to leave. She is Beauty, you see, as ‘Aoife’ is an old Irish name that means ‘beautiful’ and ‘radiant’, and with some sly help from the magical and mysterious landlady, with an odd taste for gingerbread, played by Virginia Roncetti (Off-Broadway’s A Brush with Georgia O’Keeffe) Aoife stays as the mistress of the apartment, while the Lamp goes out and investigates the world.
The set-up is fascinating in it’s playful use of the fairy tale, and while at times Glassheart finds ways to be funny and clever, the actors are directed by Anaïs Koivisto (Artistic Director of Everyday Inferno Theatre Company & Costume Designer) to play the moments with very stylized and overly dramatic line readings that initially keep us at arms length from the Beast’s pain. The songs are a distraction and not performed or written well enough to captivate us. The dialogue is strained and melodramatic. Only when Cox’s Aoife makes her way into the apartment does some semblance of authentic emotional behavior start to take root. Her character, possibly how it is written, but most definitely how she is portrayed, settles the story down. It never truly becomes something one can emotionally get behind, but her scene with the Lamp, who starts to experience human life, has a beer, and becomes ‘Only’ is about the only time this play feels accessible. Only’s paradox is a direct result of the playwright flipping the transformation of Lumiere to the reverse with Lamp. Because once the curse is broken, hopefully by Aoife expressing love for the Beast, Only will lose the human life she has started to embrace, and return to the inanimate world of just being a lamp. Only’s existence depends entirely on the Beast not finding love, because if he does, she will fade and disappear like a light switch being turned off. It’s quite a quagmire Only finds herself in, and although the magical landlady seems, for no apparent reason, to be passionately invested in her survival, she must decide the value of her existence over her love and care for her master, the Beast.
Interesting and compelling in idea and shape, Glassheart fails to make my heart feel engaged or open up to their troubled predicament. It is true that this non-Disney approach to the traditional ideas of love within a fairy tale are re-focused away from the concepts of conventional romance. Hardy attempts to try for something darker, creating a construct that is much more complex, but in the end, doesn’t make it compelling. By turning one aspect of the fairy tale on its head, making the object’s human survival in direct opposition to the curse being lifted, adds a certain level of complication that has merit and deserves exploration. But the director and the playwright falter in their use of language and production style to bring the quandary to emotional life. Cox and Garmany give it a valiant try, but are not powerful enough to save the Beast from destruction. And the two are not given the tools and guidance they need to order to help Glassheart from finding the love it hoped for.