Tuesday, May 20, 2014

With Many Charms, 'The White Snake' Enchants but Doesn't Quite Entrance -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The White Snake
written and directed by Mary Zimmerman
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru June 8

I admired most everything about The White Snake, which Mary Zimmerman wrote based on a classic Chinese fable and directs at the Goodman Theatre.

And for the most part, I enjoyed it.

But I can't say I completely loved it.

The staging and scenery by Zimmerman and her longtime set designer Daniel Ostling is highly imaginative.

The costuming by Mara Blumenfeld is resplendent.

The Asian tonality of the play itself, and the accompanying live music, is appreciably different than most dramatic works I see.

The story line and themes--revolving around a White Snake who transforms into a woman (Amy Kim Waschke), her friend the Green Snake who likewise humanizes (Tanya Thai McBride), a man named Xu Xian (Jon Norman Schneider) who the white snake comes to love and wants to stay with, and a Buddhist priest Fa Hai (Matt DeCaro) who insists the relationship is unnatural and forbidden--have much current resonance, yet an appealing agelessness.

And the acting, especially by the four main cast members cited above, is uniformly excellent.

Yet while I appreciate Zimmerman's wondrous artistry and aesthetic, I can't say The White Snake consistently engaged me over its 100 minutes.

And though I genuinely appreciate the Goodman Theatre introducing me to different theatrical forms during any subscription season, I can't say I liked this unique piece more than Rebecca Gilman's first-rate drama, Luna Gale, earlier this season, or as much as The Jungle Book musical Zimmerman helmed at Goodman last season.

I certainly expect, and respect, that others will like The White Snake a good bit more than me. The novelty and beauty of the work, and all involved, is impressive and my @@@1/2 reflects a night of theater I liked considerably more than I didn't.

But other than Mary Zimmerman devotees--and through her 20-year association with Goodman I expect she's developed many--and those distinctly interested in theater that ventures beyond the traditional, I don't know that I would highly recommend The White Snake.

For while it tells a nice tale in a rather atypical, non-Western way--though I noted how the romantic storyline is thematically similar to that of the classic musical Brigadoon, next up at Goodman--at the end of the day, The White Snake just didn't have all that much bite.

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