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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Dazzling Production of Mary Zimmerman's
The White Snake

Also see Richard's reviews of Carmelina and Wilder Times

White Snake
Thai McBride
Berkeley Repertory Theatre is presenting an astounding production of Mary Zimmerman's sensorial feast, The White Snake, through December 23rd. The play was a highlight of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and this production has slight changes, which make the story easier to understand. The White Snake is the old story of man and woman, boy and girl, or even man and serpent, falling in love. Of course, all is not happiness since a tormented Buddhist monk decides their mating is against God's law and stops at nothing to break it up.

The White Snake, a classic romance from Chinese legend, is stunningly presented by the cast, most of whom were in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, in the ensemble, is new to the cast. This is a transforming experience—a classic tale told with copious charm and wit, studded with moments of electrifying drama and presented with a chic visual flair.

We meet the White Snake (Amy Kim Waschke) at her home in the mountains where she has spent 1,700 years studying the Tao, having developed a set of skills including shape shifting. White Snake has become curious about the world of humans who live at the base of the mountain. She convinces her best and loyal friend Green Snake (Tanya Thai McBride) to join her in disguising themselves for a brief visit to West Lake at the bottom of the mountain. She is now called Lady White and Green Snake is now called Greenie. Lady White falls for a kind, handsome young man named Xu Xian (Christopher Livingston) who reciprocates her love. A life of love and prosperity in the pharmacy business soon follows, in which Lady White is able to cure all sickness and ailments of the local population.

Fa Hai (Jack Willis), a self-righteous monk who lives at the top of the mountain and is head of a Buddhist monastery, hears of Lady White's unusual healing powers. He also knows she is a snake and believes this is an unnatural marriage. So the monk goes down the mountain with the intent of saving the world from "this nest of vipers" with the fervor of a right-wing fundamentalist telling all "This is Buddha's country." How it ends I will not say.

Mary Zimmerman directs the one hour and 40 minute production, filling the stage with ever-changing fantastic spectacles, such as astounding puppetry to delight the eye, a train of white umbrella-carrying actors who breeze their way around the stage, and ink clouds of Shawn Sagady's projection design that dissolve into Chinese landscapes. A medical cabinet full of Chinese herbs raises from the stage and then, when opened, reveals a boudoir and something even more startling. Set design by Daniel Ostling and Lighting Design by T.J. Gerckens are awesome. Costumes by Mara Blumenfeld are gorgeous. Andre Pluess's inventive Sino-American score is played with deft strings, flutes and percussion trio.

Amy Kim Waschke gives a beautiful performance as Lady White, aka White Snake. She is sweet and earnest in her performance, becoming radiant as she is transformed into Lady White. Tanya Thai McBride is delightfully plucky as the Greek Snake. She has sharp comic timing and roguishly fast changes of thought.

Jack Willis once again dominates the stage with his great booming voice as Fa Hai. He is ferocious, funny and convincing. Cristofer Jean, with his thunderous theatrical voice, is excellent as the Brother-in-Law and various other characters in this large ensemble. He is outstanding playing a towering Guanyin bodhisattva toward the end of the production. Christopher Livingston is charming as the na´ve Xu Xian and has an enjoyable way of speaking, mostly in his phrasing of sentences.

The White Snake plays through December 23rd at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. Coming up next is the world premiere of Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright opening on January 4, 2013.


Photo: mellopix.com


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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