The McCarter Theatre Center's latest production is The White Snake, a fascinating, exquisite retelling of a centuries old Chinese fable from Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman. The White Snake is a fantastic love story of great beauty between a young man Xu Xian (Jon Norman Schneider), a humble pharmacist assistant, and a beautiful young woman (Amy Kim Waschle), well not quite young since she is centuries old, whose magical powers are so great she has transformed herself into human form.....from a large white snake. She and her spunky companion, The Green Snake (Tanya Thai McBride) journey down from their mountain top home to experience life as humans.
Immediately on arrival, they meet a courteous young man, Xu Xian, who offers to share a boat ride across the lake. The White Snake falls in love with him and before the day is over they wed. Enter a villainous head monk Fa Hai (Matt DeCarlo) who warns Xu Xian that his bride is a serpent! Plot tease over...we can reveal that at the end of the 100 minute production (no intermission) we witnessed many handkerchiefs dabbing away tears of happiness.
Yes, this is a fairy tale, but it is an elegant visual treat, performed and staged in such a gorgeous manner (marvelous costumes, puppets, music, sound and lighting effects and highly inventive scenery elements including billowing sheets representing mountains, sea and clouds) that this may be the most memorable theatre event you will experience this year.
The fine cast consists of eleven performers with all but The White Snake, The Green Snake and Xu Xian doubling many roles. Amy Kim Waschle is excellent as The White Snake. She is repeating the role of The White Snake that she originated last year in the play’s world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Also, repeating her role as The Green Snake at the OSF is Tanya Thai McBride. McBride is an exceptional physical comedian who garners most of the laughs. Her gusto performance contributes immeasurably to the enjoyment. Jon Norman Schneider nicely plays the humble, naive Xu Xian.
The supporting cast (with principal role indicated) includes Matt DeCarlo as the nasty head monk, Fa Hai who even looks like Budda; Emily Sophia Knapp as the Crane (impressive winged costume); Lisa Tejero as Xian's sister; Vin Kridakorn as the boatman; Wai Yim as the Brother-in-Law; Gary Wingert as Canopus; Eliza Shin as the Acolyte who aids Xian. Most of the supporting cast double as narrators explaining the evolution of the story.
The music ensemble includes Tessa Brinckman flutes; Ronnie Malley strings/percussion and Michal Palzewicz cello.
Major kudos for Mary Zimmerman's creative team from the OSF: Daniel Ostling (scenic design); Mara Blumenfeld (costume design); T.J. Gerckens (lighting design); Andre Pluess (original music and sound design); and Shawn Sagady (projection design). The production stage manger is Alison Cote. The director of production is David York.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 20, 2013
The White Snake will be on the Matthews stage at the McCarter Center until Sunday, November 3, 2013. Evening performances are at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 8 pm on Friday and Saturday with matinees on Saturday at 3 pm and Sunday at 2 pm.
Tickets, starting as low as $20, are available online at www.mccarter.org, by phone 609.258.2787 or at the McCarter Theatre Ticket Office, 91 University Place in Princeton.