'Beauty' reworks old tale with new twists
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer
"I never particularly cared for the Disney version," said Seattle playwright and author Bret Fetzer, musing over his stage adaptation of Madame Leprince de Beaumont's darkly romantic 18th-century fairy-tale fantasy, brought to the stage this weekend by Honolulu Theatre for Youth. "The Disney version is very much this adolescent love story between an ugly guy and a bookish girl. I was after something that would tell the story, yet bring out some of the emotional sides of the story that tend to be glossed over in Disney's version."
Sides like glimpses of the uncontrolled desire and rage that led to the Beast's cursed predicament and the undistilled evil and greed of Belle's sisters, which Cocteau managed to spookily and vividly weave into his film while still keeping it an enchanting and magical classic for the ages.
"Of course, I cranked up some of the humor," said Fetzer, who also changed a few names Belle is now named Rose; her sisters, Daffodil and Tulip. "But I was much more focused on the fun of telling the story, because at heart it is a beautiful story."
On a recent Friday morning rehearsal at HTY's airport industrial offices, "Beauty" director Mark Lutwak and his five-member cast (playing 20 separate characters, no less) run through an often spooky, often laugh-out-loud funny, and often brilliant reworking of the play. Obviously well-rehearsed and clearly in love with the play's intelligently witty dialogue and situations, actors Monica Cho, Kelly Williams, Hermenigildo "Junior" Tesoro, BullDog and Cynthia See invest even "Beauty's" minor characters with enough inspired personality tics to keep them from fading into the background. It's impossible to choose a stand-out in the bunch.
In fact, to give away any of the plot twists and surprises that Fetzer and Lutwak have skillfully worked into this reworking would be, well, beastly.
Fetzer watches the actors attentively, laughing hard at more than a few scenes on this, his fourth run-through with the cast.
"It's really great to be watching the play and still find it funny," said
Fetzer. "The cast is so invested in this, which leaves me immediately comfortable and reassured. They keep throwing in all these little nuances to things and their timing is just so precise. And the direction Mark has taken it is very clear, strong and good."
Lutwak himself fell for Fetzer's fresh take on "Beauty" upon reading it, working long distance with the playwright on a rejiggered stage version (Fetzer's original version was written with parts for more than 30 children) that played to the talents of HTY's well-oiled, but very much adult, cast. Always a sucker for adaptations of classic tales that manage to craftily excise old school stiffness and formality, while injecting the kind of smartly crafted humor and drama more readily accepted by Internet-age tykes, Lutwak knew this "Beauty" was too gorgeous to pass up.
"A story like 'Beauty and the Beast' has some deep questions, but over time these get so frozen in time or 'Disney-fied' that you actually kind of lose the real core of it," said Lutwak. "Then you get a version like Bret's that, while funny, actually in certain ways points up the story's moral core more strongly."