Modern retellings of Beauty and the Beast are nothing new, really. But Reina Hardy’s eerie, melancholy Glassheart sets itself apart not with dancing teapots or arrogant rivals who eat five dozen eggs but for being more than just a love story.
There is a talking lamp, though. And that chipper, steadfast servant to the Beast, played with adorable pluck and steely resolve by Megan Reichelt, is at the heart of Rorschach’s intimate production, directed by Lee Liebeskind. Sure, the audience is invested in whether the curse against the Beast (a rather urbane Andrew Keller) will be broken, and whether he and a very modern, neurotic Beauty named Aoife (the appealing Natalie Cutcher) get together. But Glassheart is also quite concerned with what effect this will all have on the lamp, recently christened with a name of her own, Only.
Only’s been out living the life of Aoife while the girl has been (somewhat voluntarily) imprisoned in the Beast’s room. And she likes her new human-like environment, a detail that isn’t lost on a meddling witch (Lynette Rathnam), who is also the group’s landlady. The simple set (designed by Robbie Hayes) is contained exclusively within the Beast’s apartment; it starts off claustrophobic, but rotates and eventually expands, as time passes and Aoife becomes more accustomed to her small new world. It isn’t the most unusual set for Rorschach, a company obsessed with the use of space to tell a story, but it’s appropriate for this particular story.
Glassheart has the dark feel of many fairy tales, and it both references and takes liberties with the original version, while having enough of its own personality to keep the audience guessing as to what will happen to its characters. The Beast is the least developed of these figures, though Keller gives us glimpses of his inner life, particularly when he’s animatedly reenacting The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one of his hundreds of books, for his servant and prisoner. Aoife works well enough as a modern-day Beauty, chatty but damaged and almost immediately forgiving of the Beast’s inner faults. Perhaps the most intriguing character and performance is Rathnam’s witch, a creepy but magnetic woman of indeterminate age. She is one of those villains who certainly seems sinister (if sympathetic), but whose arguments and motivations can start to make a whole lot of sense to the rational observer as the play goes on. In Glassheart, that’s a seductive and dangerous thing.
Glassheart is at Rorschach through February 16. Running time is about two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission. Tickets ($20 to $30) are available via Rorschach’s website.