Constellation brings in another joyfully theatrical piece, Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of a Chinese folk tale—a tasty mix of beasts of fantasy, music, voice, dance, stage combat, and puppetry. Through many retellings, the core story concerns an educated White Snake (cool and regal Eunice Bae) who can take human form. White Snake falls in love with a mortal man, Xu Xian (Jacob Yeh); despite the cautions of the Buddhist abbot Fa Hai (a rather imposing Ryan Sellars), the two marry.
In some versions (not this one), Fa Hai is the voice of wisdom, helping Xu Xian to see through the world’s illusions; Xu Xian becomes a monk. Here, the retelling follows the love story between White Snake and Xu Xian, with particular emphasis on loving a person (or a snake) for what she is. Fa Hai becomes an evil antagonist, trapping Xu XIan in the monastery. This version also shows the influence of post-revolution China, with a subplot about corrupted magistrates.
Little details power the production, like the lorgnette held for White Snake while she attends to her studies, or the goofy bedroom slippers worn by Xu Xian’s layabout Sister.
Percussionist Tom Teasley is joined by Chao Tian to form Dong Xi (“East-West”), adding Chinese dulcimer to Teasley’s ocean harp and the other tricks in his bag.
There is strong, even deadly magic; there are journeys and rebirths. But there is also an endearing sitcom Darrin and Samantha vibe to Xu Xian and White Snake’s story. Perhaps it’s helped along by sidekick Green Snake (the inventive Momo Nakamura), likewise in human form and plucky servant to White Snake. Imagine Eve Arden transported to the East.
- The White Snake, written and originally directed by Mary Zimmerman, directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, Constellation Theatre Company, Washington