I don't think the word small is in Mary Zimmerman's vocabulary. The legendary theatre writer/director fills her productions with rainbows of color, staging that dazzles the eye, elaborate choreography and music to set the mood. All these elements are present in her adaptation of a nearly 2,000 year old Chinese fable, The White Snake, playing now at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.
The White Snake is a traditional tale of boy meets girl and falls head over heels in love. But, there's a problem. The girl is a white serpent from the spirit world who must join the human world in order to attain her heart's desire. She decides to give it a try and accompanied by a wise-cracking sidekick, who was a green snake, she descends from her mountain top home, meets Xu Xian, a naïve and trusting young man, and they marry. He's a trained pharmacist, she has magical powers so they set up shop and seem headed for an idyllic life. However, complications arise when she gets pregnant and an envious wicked holy man schemes to sabotage their happiness.
In the past I have found Ms. Zimmerman's imaginative work often lacking in heart. Not so, in this case. Despite the special effects, the puppetry and projections, the vivid costuming and all the theatrical magic, the true nature of the story shines through. The ensemble of fine actors is a joy to watch and listen to. The accompaniment of cello, flute and percussion is perfect. This is big, bold, beautiful theatre.
The White Snake, had its World Premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a couple of years ago. I have no idea why it took so long to get here, but it was worth the wait. Performances continue at The Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn through June 8th. Tickets at 312-443-3800
Filed under: Theatre Reviews