Hypocrites’ Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes Tall on Talent, Short on Substance

(left to right) Elle Walker, Leslie Ann Sheppard, Amanda Raquel Martinez, Aja Wiltshire in the Hypocrites’ World premiere adaptation of Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes adapted by Andra Velis Simon, directed by Sean Graney. Photo by Joe Mazza.
(left to right) Elle Walker, Leslie Ann Sheppard, Amanda Raquel Martinez, Aja Wiltshire in the Hypocrites’ world premiere adaptation of Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes. Photo by Joe Mazza.

Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes, the Hypocrites‘ latest production, offers a re-imagined version of Pauline Viardot-Garcia’s chamber operetta Cendrillon, based on the familiar story of Cinderella. Performed through the framing device of one of Viardot-Garcia’s salons–where entrance costs one potato–the production is a vibrant and joyful adaptation, inhibited by the slightness of Andra Velis Simon’s adaptation.

That is not to say that the Simon aims are ignoble. Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes eschews the traditional narrative’s prince, marriage and ball, instead depicting how one woman realizes her professional dreams of becoming an opera singer (never mind that she still needs an external nudge in the right direction rather than owning her agency). In doing so, the fairy tale takes on feminist attributes, creating a story of empowerment and equality. However, these lessons are commented on and reinforced so overtly as to undermine their weight. Audiences are smart enough and the cast is capable enough for these morals to be gleaned through osmosis rather than hammered in an obvious way.

While this particular adaptation is light on depth it certainly isn’t light on talent. Graney is an accomplished director who knows how to keep a story moving, and the production is well-cast. In the title role, Amanda Raquel Martinez is perfectly meek as Cinderella. Her virtuosic musical talents–she plays violin, guitar, ukelele, and sings an impressive operatic range–are dizzying when on display amidst Alison Siple’s outrageous costuming and Regina Garcia’s technicolor wonderland of a set.

Equally impressive are Joel Rodriguez as the villainous Baron (no wicked step-mother in this production), and Elle Walker and Aja Wiltshire in their roles as Cinderella’s wicked step-sisters. Both Walker and Wiltshire shine in an early song about beating off a beggar with a broom.

Ray Nardelli’s sound design does well to support the vocal talents of each performer, rendering their words and notes with impressive clarity.  Only Jared Gooding’s lighting design gets lost amongst the almost cloyingly colorful work from Garcia and Siple.

For the talent of its actors, impressive musical arrangements, and messages of equality and kindness, Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes is commendable. Coming in at just under 90 minutes, it presents an outing for families that rivals the colorful worlds of Sesame Street or Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. On the surface, the playground the Hypocrites presents us with is tantalizing in its whimsy, yet Simon’s adaptation does little to scratch below the surface. In the end, that is a disservice to the potential of both ensemble and audience. We are all capable of digging deeper to sort the carnivale from the lesson.

Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes will play through January 8 at the Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park. Performances are Friday-Sunday with some Thursday shows. Tickets are currently available for $15-36 online or by calling 773-398-7028.

Brent Eickhoff
Brent Eickhoff

Brent Eickhoff is a Chicago-based director, writer, and educator. Brent has worked with A Red Orchid Theatre, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., The Arc Theatre, The Public House Theatre, Something Marvelous, Whiskey Radio Hour, and The Burrowers. He is the Educational Coordinator for Silk Road Rising, and is a founder and co-artistic director of Blue Goose Theatre Ensemble. While Brent has worked with a variety of Chicago theatre artists, he doesn't let that get in the way of writing unbiased reviews of any production he covers.