There is something about the energy that changes with non-traditional casting that thrusts a tale into new dimensions, even in puppet theater. In this innovative version of Snow White at the Puppet Co, Shayla Garfield plays Snow White, who just happens to be African American and her Prince is Chema Pineda-Fernandez who is Latinx of Native American descent (Nawat-Pipil)
I was actually surprised at my own excitement about something as simple as diversity in the tale– it’s an important and significant step for all kinds of reasons, both behind the scenes and on stage. Hearing the Prince tell Snow White that she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen validates her beauty in the eyes of all who behold her. And don’t get me started on the significance of her being considered as “Sister” to a family of dwarves –that turns all kinds of pre-conceived notions on its head. Again, the casting opens up the look to be more inclusive for whole new possibilities. You wouldn’t think a puppet show would have that kind of impact or reach, but it does, big time, so hats off to the Puppet Co for taking that step.
The show opens with the Prince trying to goad his horse onward, but the animal senses danger and refuses to budge, clearly communicating his intent with sound and gestures for a fun interchange. Once they retreat, we find out what the ominous caution was all about – a masked, gorgeously cloaked Queen with her back to the audience, drenched in ruby red, down to elbow length gloves, peering into her ever-changing mirror asking the infamous question about who’s the fairest in the land. No sooner does she see the profile of a sweet maiden projected on screen than she starts plotting her demise, and we pity anyone who gets in her way.
One by one, the dwarves appear, each with a special gift and all protective of their precious Snow White who must be hidden away from the jealous Queen. Each of the seven rod puppets is uniquely constructed with swiveling heads and a unique gift or trait of prominence–large eyes to see through mountains, a huge nose that can smell danger, voluminous ears to hear across the land. For the one who is extra clumsy, all he can do is trip and fall, the creative writers even find a way to make that a life-saving gift. The brothers use their talents to protect Snow White, warning her not to let anyone in the cottage or to reveal her name, and instead refer to herself as “Sister.” Well, we all know how well that turns out, and they do too when they see via a projected silhouette that her good nature couldn’t resist treating a tired traveler (the Prince) to tea.
The speedy one who can cover miles in the blink of an eye delivers much of the narration as spokesperson for the entourage, and comes up with the scheme to fool the Queen who demands Snow White’s heart as proof that she’s out of the picture, kind of literally. “That’s just gross” the brothers all say in a funny refrain.
SNOW WHITE AND THE 7 DWARVES
June 25 – August 9
The Puppet Co.
7300 MacArthur Blvd.
Glen Echo, MD
Thursdays thru Sundays
Tickets or call (301) 634-5380
This production combines actors, rod puppets, and animated projections, all together in the same scene, with direction, set and costume design by Allan Stephens, who also performs. The all-knowing “mirror on the wall,” a large round circle mounted prominently above the set, provides a glimpse of off-stage action in animated silhouette, bringing the action front and center. The stage has a beveled layered effect where the dwarf brothers can perch and have their say. The clever dialog by Christopher Piper, who also performs, has an upbeat swing that comfortably blends the old tale with humor and care.
MayField Piper’s costumes cover an unusually wide range with a rustic look for the hard-working dwarves to the Queen’s magnificent flowing velvet cloak to Snow White’s delicate shimmery fabric fit for a Princess. The metamorphosis of the Queen turning into a snarled beat-up old ragged woman right before our eyes reflects the special team-work needed to accomplish such a feat and make it look easy. Once Snow White bites into the poisoned apple and is stretched out before her adoring friends, it’s a somber moment that is a careful rendered.
An unexpected twist helps unseal the Princess’s fate (and reveals that a tough bump in the road can be even more effective than a true love’s kiss!) Once the Prince declares his intent to immediately marry Snow White, the Queen is stripped of her powers and all ends well for the couple, the horse, the kingdom and, of course, the little people. Thanks to the ingenuity and creativity of the Puppet Co., the ageless tale of Snow White gets a fresh new spin with a clever blend of fantasy and reality, heart-felt messages, and adorable inclusivity.
Recommended for PreK to Grade 4
Snow White and the 7 Dwarves, featuring Shayla Garfield, Chema Pineda-Fernandez, Christopher Piper and Allan Stevens. Produced by The Puppet Co . Reviewed by Debbie Jackson.