Editors' pick

The Rough-Faced Girl


Editorial Review

Review 'The Rough Faced Girl'

By Celia Wren
Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011

Relationships are tricky enough in normal circumstances - imagine how tough they are when you're invisible. That's the plight of Achak, the good-looking young hunter who's a major character in "The Rough-Faced Girl," the amiable current offering from Synetic Family Theater. After Achak is mobbed by female admirers, his sister places him under a protective spell. Suddenly, ordinary folk can't see him.

The adventures of Achak and of the Rough-Faced Girl - who's so good and steadfast that she can see him - unspool in gentle, lissome fashion in this children's entertainment, which uses Synetic's signature wordless-storytelling style to recount a Native American myth. On a set furnished with little more than billowy white drapes and a monkey bar, the performers' dancelike movements, agile acrobatics, and expressive and funny miming conjure up a world of magic and human foibles. The story - adapted and directed by Elena Velasco - also drives home some unobjectionable messages: that empathy, courage and integrity are important, and that appearances aren't everything.

These morals are principally embodied by the Rough-Faced Girl (Jade Wheeler), whose name refers to the scarring she suffers while tending the fire at the bidding of her imperious sister, Takhi (Jessica Thorne). Needless to say, Achak (Joshua Rosenblum) sees past these superficial blemishes, as does his sister, Nadie (Tori Bertocci), a shaman. The Rough-Faced Girl's ultimate romantic triumph gives the tale a Cinderella twist, but this heroine is a refreshingly active Cinderella, pursuing her soul mate through a forest filled with hostile spirits and rescuing him from his lonely invisibility.

Wheeler ably traces the maturing of the Rough-Faced Girl from days of klutzy, wide-eyed toddler-dom (chasing a butterfly; making inadvertent noises during a hunt) to humble, patient adulthood. As the noble-hearted but mischievous Achak, the compelling Rosenblum gets to have more fun, especially when his character takes advantage of his invisibility by teasing his dimwitted female groupies (portrayed by various performers). At one point, Achak is roped into a multi-character chase that incorporates leapfrog and ranges into the audience seating area. Another particularly active scene involves aerial gymnastics on the drapery.

Ratcheting up the suspense quotient is the production's sound design, with its exotic, reedy, percussion-tautened music and its windy wuthering noises. (Velasco and Synetic resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze share sound-designer credit.) But the snazziest effect in the production occurs when three members of the ensemble depict a fire, waving wisps of orange fabric with quivering, flamelike gestures, and then curling up gracefully on the stage to indicate the fire's devolution to glowing embers. It's a nifty sequence: You can hardly blame the Rough-Faced Girl for staying dangerously close to the hearth.