Khanh Doan re-invents Briar Rose
BY NHIEN NGUYEN
When Khanh Doan first auditioned for “Sleeping Beauty,” she didn’t think they would cast her as the lead, Briar Rose. The image of Sleeping Beauty is that of a blonde-haired blue-eyed young woman, after all.
Believing that she wasn’t the “obvious choice” for the part, the Vietnamese American actress (Wooden O’s “Macbeth, 5th Avenue Theatre, “Miss Saigon”) was pleasantly surprised when she landed the role in Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) modernized and updated retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”
In this version of the classic fairy tale, written by the renowned Welsh playwright Charles Way, Briar Rose is not the helpless female one sees so often reinforced in fairy tales. She is strong-willed, smart, funny and helps her prince find the courage to succeed at his hero’s journey.
Doan was drawn to the character because Briar Rose was not just a “pretty princess who falls asleep” and is awakened by “a random stranger.” Prince Owain, sent to befriend the young princess, arrives at the castle garden thinking of himself as “utterly useless.” Through his tender friendship with Briar Rose, he learns to believe in himself, enabling him to save the princess from her deep sleep.
“I like the relationship that develops between them,” says Doan. “He helps a friend and realizes he is in love with her.”
The relationships between characters and the universal feelings of wanting and self-doubt are what make this production an entertaining and moving tale for both children and adults alike. Doan said that many of the actors cry on stage at certain poignant points in the play because they feel the real emotions and sincerity of the characters and actions.
For Doan, the play stretched her acting talent in many ways. A dialect coach trained the actors to speak four different accents. Doan, who had only used an accent on stage once before, mastered the subtleties of British and Irish accents.
Playing a duel role as one of the cute and comedic fairies, Doan was at first a bit intimidated to play a Vaudeville, slap-stick character. But the funny dance-off and overall jesting of the fairies in their special language turned out to be a favorite scene among the audience.
Like Briar Rose, who in the end confronts her fears, Doan gave up her stable and lucrative job in marketing and human resources in the Bay Area and moved to Seattle to pursue her dream to be a professional actor. With money tucked away for paying rent, Doan decided “this might be the time to really go for it.”
Doan’s parents, who came from Vietnam to the United States when Doan was one, were supportive of her decision in Seattle, though they figured she was merely “taking a break from the real world.”
Doan’s parents realized what a professional she had become when they came to Seattle from San Diego to see her in “Sleeping Beauty.” Though Doan has been acting in plays since high school, this was their first time seeing their daughter on stage.
Doan said her father, who had once upon a time acted and taught the church choir, was blown away by her performance and the quality of the production. After watching the show, her mother warmed up to the idea of Doan pursuing her acting dream. Doan said, “I knew she liked [the show].”
Besides impressing her parents, Doan was thrilled to see Vietnamese children come up to her after the show and ask if she was also Vietnamese.
It made me extra happy that they could see someone like me on stage, said Doan.
“Sleeping Beauty” continues through Feb. 4 at Seattle Children’s Theatre. For tickets, call (206) 441-3322 or visit www.sct.org.