Constellation Theatre Company’s latest production may be called The White Snake, but it’s the Green Snake who steals the show.
Momo Nakamura proves a delightful, hilarious presence as the spunky best friend and apprentice of sorts to the titular character (Eunice Bae, a calm and impressive figure in her own right) in this Chinese fable. Both are snake spirits who have spent centuries cultivating their magical powers — enough to eventually decide to join the world of humans, disguised as beautiful maidens, if only for a day. There, White Snake falls in love with the kind but gullible Xu Xian (Jacob Yeh), and the snakes conspire to keep up their ruse through marriage, epic journeys, and the unwelcome meddling of a sinister monk, Fa Hai (Ryan Sellers).
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Nakamura and Bae do a lovely job with the puppetry required to enact their snakelike forms in Constellation’s interpretation of the tale, first conceived several years ago by Mary Zimmerman and now directed by Allison Arkell Stockman.
The work proves to be a fine testament to female friendship, with the two spirit friends adventuring together, joking with each other (Nakamura in particular gets the chance to show off her comic timing), and doing the heavy lifting required to save Xu Xian each time he finds himself in danger. The pharmacist-turned-business-owner love interest is a rather bumbling figure, but Yeh awards him a sweet naivety; his character’s persistent Doubt takes on ominous physical form, courtesy of Linda Bard. As Hai, Sellers is a looming, threatening presence that keeps the audience uneasy as he meddles in the snakes’ deceptive, if ultimately harmless, machinations.
The White Snake from Constellation Theatre Company closes May 26, 2019
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Serene, glowing Chinese lanterns, as well as sheer, flowing costumes (Frank Labovitz) all add to the lyrical feel of Daniel Ettinger’s scenic design. The show is the latest collaboration between Constellation and their percussionist weapon, versatile world musician Tom Teasley; here, he’s partnered with the excellent Chinese dulcimer expert Chao Tian. The pair’s score here is more background music than focal point, but it’s an essential part of the production’s gentle flow. A group of alternating narrators keep the fable’s storyline gently humming along, with dashes of humor sprinkled throughout their plot telegraphing.
For all its triumphant moments, the tale wraps up with a less-than-fizzy ending, but Constellation still manages to leave the audience with a smidgen or two of hope as the curtain comes down.
The White Snake. Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman. Sound Design, Composers, Musician: Tom Teasley and Chao Tian. Scenic Design by Daniel Ettinger. Choreography by Jennifer J. Hopkins. Costume Design by Frank Labovitz. Lighting Design by Max Doolittle. Properties Design by Alexander Rothschild. Puppet Design by Matthew Pauli. Assistant Director: Aria Velz. With Eunice Bae, Jacob Yeh, Ryan Sellers, Dylan Arredondo, Linda Bard, Jennifer Knight, Shubhangi Kuchibholta, Jordan D. Moral, Andrew Quilpa, KyoSin Kang, Paolo Santayana, Grace Sicard, and Ramtin Vaziri. Review by Missy Frederick.