'Cinderella': Actress moves from the dark side

by Stephanie Wright Hession

Khamara Pettus often plays sinister characters - she recently portrayed a member of a murderous group of chainsaw-touting office workers in Crowded Fire's production of "The Secretaries."

But for the holiday season, she goes the other way, starring in the African-American Shakespeare Company's new production of "Cinderella."

"I actually do a lot of dark comedy work and a lot of character work, so 'Cinderella' was a refreshing change for me personally," Pettus says. "It gave me a different way of working on a character because my characters are usually so outlandish, and Cinderella is sweet and charming and light - that's what I like about her.

"It's been really fun to put on the dress - it's been really fun to do the photographs, the whole process," Pettus says. "It's been a fairy tale come true for me personally."

In this incarnation, the story shifts between the present and the magical kingdom of an African American monarchy where Prince Charming (Matt Jones) lives.

Velina Brown, known for her work with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, directs this year's production. Brown changed up aspects of the production, adding Afrocentric aspects to it, casting women as the two stepsisters and presenting them as attractive. In the past, the company has cast men and portrayed the siblings as homely. Brown is making the change to emphasize the significance of internal beauty.

"I decided that I wanted them to be women because I wanted to have the conversation about 'pretty is as pretty does,' and 'ugly is as ugly does,' " she says.

The changes, she says, don't change the basic structure of the classic story.

"The basic tale is the same, but with the African-American Shakespeare Company, they do the classic with color, so that's the main difference," Brown says. "It's with an African American Cinderella and Prince Charming and that is something that I'm really excited about sharing with the little ones."

8 p.m. Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Sat., 3 p.m. Sun. Through Dec. 19. $10-$50. Buriel Clay Theatre, African-American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., S.F. (800) 838-3006. www.african-americanshakes.org.

- Stephanie Wright Hession, 96hours@sfchronicle.com

This article appeared on page G - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/12/01/NS381GH3PI.DTL#ixzz16wyGm9gc