Fun holiday comedic ‘Cinderella’

Nothing will put you in the holiday spirit more quickly than the African-American Shakespeare Co.’s seasonal show, a low-tech and engaging “Cinderella.” I caught a Sunday matinee among an audience of squirming, giggling girls in shiny party dresses, many in sparkly tiaras too.

The theater’s Afrocentric script — tweaked by whoever is directing it in a given year — is a delight.

This year, San Francisco Mime Troupe veteran Velina Brown is at the helm, so there is a splash of the troupe’s commedia dell’arte-style physicality, well executed by an adept cast that includes a few kids, but with adults playing the principals and some smaller roles to good effect.

It also features a pair of suitably screechy stepsisters who — in a departure from the company’s recent tradition of casting males in those roles — are women (Leslie Ivy and Beverly McGriff) and attractive, as is a particularly sexy evil stepmother (an icy and sashaying Natasha Noel).

Brown aims to send a sort of beauty-is-as-beauty-does message to little girls, and she mines plenty of comic gold along the way.

The company’s rendition begins with a slightly awkward framing device in which a grandmother (a warm portrayal by Belinda “Beli” Sullivan) relates the familiar fairy tale to calm her grandchildren, a pair of squabbling sisters. (The device does pay off with a nice little twist at the end, though.)

The play then settles into a buoyant rhythm.

A charmingly down-to-earth Cinderella (Khamara Pettus, barefoot with a broom and a vertical Afro) is visited by a zany fairy godmother (Melvina Hayes, hilarious in sunglasses, black leggings and a filmy little cape), who assures her amazed goddaughter that when she goes to the ball — and she will go to the ball, in a glittery white gown (costumes by Kristen Lowe) and coach (set design by Joel Eis) — the prince will recognize her inner beauty.

Particularly nicely staged are the scenes at the masked ball itself, with beautifully choreographed dancing.

A tall and graceful Prince Charming (Matt Jones) tests out a variety of potential princess brides in scenes reminiscent of Petruchio putting Kate through her paces in “The Taming of the Shrew.”

In an especially inspired bit, Jones performs a variety of bizarre dance moves (think Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks) to challenge the sincerity of his rapacious guests.

A scene between the Prince and Cinderella — who initially thinks he’s a footman — is played with quiet simplicity.

At the end, in a nice touch, Cinderella finds her true voice — and her self-worth.

THEATER REVIEW

Cinderella

Presented by the African-American Shakespeare Co.

Where: African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., San Francisco

When:
8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $10 to $30

Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.african-americanshakes.org

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