Owen Carey

You’d be correct to fret that a modern-day fairytale could be in danger of tipping into childish sentimentality—especially when it includes a mother who dies, a father who marries an evil stepmother, and three children abandoned in the woods. But with excellent direction and casting, and imaginative set-design and choreography, CoHo Theatre’s production of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, elevates its nursery-rhyme plot into a moving exploration of identity, autonomy, and family.

Albienne, Beatrix, and Carmen, played by Jen Rowe, Beth Thompson, and Alex Ramirez de Cruz, deal with death and abandonment separately, losing their foundation of sisterhood as they launch into individual young adult lives. While experiencing loneliness, war, strangers in strange lands, and the unknown, each girl must discover who she is in order to grow up. It’s a narrative that can be appreciated by both older audiences who’ve been there, and younger viewers who sense bumpy journeys waiting ahead.

While there’s no real dancing or singing in the play, the actors’ interwoven third- and first-person storytelling sounds musical, and their intricate blocking and prop movements seem choreographed. They even turn busy dialogue—which sometimes includes sing-songy rhymes like “three, trees, and these”—into clever moments of theater.

Jessica Dart, outreach and communications coordinator for CoHo, says that This Girl Laughs is one of the few shows the theater has put on with a younger audience in mind. “The co-producers feel very strongly that middle and high school students should experience this play,” Dart says. “Along with adults, since it tells a decades-long coming-of-age story. The hope is that some intergenerational discussion will emerge from that.”

The play is also a theatrical representation of how the CoHo Theatre operates under its co-production model. Each year, CoHo calls for applications from theater artists interested in its mission of broadening perspectives and cultivating empathy. Once vetted, CoHo provides guidance, strength, space, cash, and people-power while co-producers raise and match funds, do publicity, cast parts, run rehearsals, and more. Artistic Director Philip Cuomo says the theater is an “incubation and nurturing space for theater artists to take on more responsibilities.” The co-production model echoes what the three sisters in This Girl Laughs have to learn to do: individually take on challenging roles, and take responsibility for their choices while navigating the intricacies of life.

This play may not be right for anyone feeling cynical about the world, or who wants to escape it. It stirs up complicated feelings of disappointment, love, loss, and accountability. But more than ever, we need a play that manages to transform the time-worn princess fairytale into a thought-provoking piece about strong, talented women who are active, responsible agents in their own lives.