I went to see the Chinese fable White Snake at the Goodman Theatre. I really enjoyed it. The play was full of music and delight. I would recommend seeing it.
The story is about a White Snake who was searching for Enlightenment. She studied for thousands of years and developed magical powers. One restless evening, she decides with her rascally friend, the Green Snake, to leave their mountain and see the world. However, when they descend into the world as a young woman and her maid, the White Snake falls in love with a man. They marry and start an apothecary business. However, despite their good deeds, an evil Buddhist monk decides to take it upon himself to destroy their happy life together because it is “unnatural” that a snake spirit consort with a man.
The staging is simply magnificent. Both snakes are represented by snake puppets that are really well employed. They have their own wonderful distinct personalities (I have a real soft spot in my heart for Green Snake). They also used a series of green and white parasols also to represent the snake. Several people in a line would each hold a parasol and it would taper off into the tail, represented by one person holding two smaller ones. They would whirl around on stage. My favorite effect was when they simulated rain by gentle dropping dry grains of rice into a metal container while beautiful blue fabrics rolled down from the ceiling. Simply magical. There were also lanterns, and stilt walkers and live musicians. They also made use of projections onto the back wall that changed from lake sides to flowering trees to hide tides. Nice interplay of the projections and the wonderful fabrics throughout the play.
I can’t help to compare it with the Lookingglass production of The Little Prince I saw earlier this year. Both had this ethereal quality to it but I felt that there was something lacking in the Little Prince. The White Snake, on the other hand, felt complete. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe the acting was better in the White Snake and so I could feel the pain and joy of the characters while I could not connect with the characters in the Little Prince.
I like how this fable resonated with issues of the day. For instance, the basic premise of a happy family threatened by a person who felt threatened by their “unnatural relationship” seems very reminiscent of the debate over gay marriage. Moreover, I couldn’t help to see the feminist bent of the play. White Snake gets famous for her medicinal powers and a powerful monk gets jealous and decides to destroy her. Hard not to see some gender dynamics there. Like any good work, there are many wonderful ways to interpret the story.
So go on and see the play if you have a chance. It closes June 8th.