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Gorgeous staging and problematic situations engage in "The White Snake"

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"The White Snake"

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“The White Snake,” a Chinese fable at Goodman Theatre, has everything hoped for in a family show.

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Chinese costumed actors move parasols, lanterns and billowing, cloud-like fabrics with the fluid grace signature staging of a Mary Zimmerman show. Adapted from a tale that has been handed down in various art forms for nearly 2,000, Zimmerman engages audiences by mixing humor with human foibles and villainous interventions with moral beliefs.

To account for different versions as the retelling takes another step forward, she has a narrator interrupt a situation with a “fork-in-the-road” note and a forked-tongue aside.

In the fable, the White Snake (Amy Kim Waschke) and her friend, Green Snake (Tanya Thai McBride), decide to seek adventure by going down from their mountain top home to the village below. To do so White Snake becomes an elegant, young maiden and Green Snake becomes her independent-thinking servant.

Part of the plan is to reward the person who saved White Snake in an earlier lifetime but is now Xu Xian (Jon Norman Schneider), a milquetoast assistant pharmacist. However, White Snake falls in love with Xu Xian in an opposites-attract way and decides to remain in the village. Green Snake, now “Greenie,” convinces Xu Xian to ask her mistress to marry him. But as fables and modern stories go, there are bumps along the way.

Wishy-washy Xu Xian is plagued by doubts on marrying someone above his station. In addition, he’s easily influenced by Fa Hai (Matt DeCaro) a prejudiced monk who rules the mountain’s monastery and does everything he can to convince Xu Xian that his beautiful wife is a snake. The monk would do anything to stop the cohabiting of a snake spirit with a human.

The moral in question is does a mate know a partner’s inner being and does that matter.

Details: “The White Snake” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60601, now through June 8, 2014. For tickets and more information call 312-443-3811 or visit Goodman Theatre.

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