Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The secret sauce Banks uses to make his Snow White something more is to build it around less. He has constructed the entire play using only two actors. It is common knowledge that there are more than two characters in Snow White, what with there being seven dwarfs for starters. Then there is an evil queen, a huntsman, and a prince in search of a bride. What is Banks trying to pull over on us? My two young friends who accompanied me to the play, ages 7 and 9, were skeptical to say the least.
However, I was confident, having seen Banks' pared down versions of Pinocchio, Huck Finn and, just last season, The Hobbitall delightful. He constructs a plausible reason for putting the play on with just two actors, with assurance that it was never intended this way, and then even more cleverly gets the audience to cheer for going ahead his device, so that the entire house is bought in to the idea, and there will be no turning back.
Of course, it makes all the difference to have the right two actors, and Banks has struck gold on that score by reeling in Joy Dolo and Dean Holt, two comic geniuses. For most of the play, Dolo is Snow White, but she also takes on the roles of the evil queen and the prince as well. Her Snow White is kind with an innocent heart, but not a pushover. Her evil queen has the temperament of a rattlesnake, coiling up in vanity and always ready to strike.
Holt is all seven dwarfs, as well as taking turns as the queen, the prince, and even as Snow White, finding a different voice and face for each. In this version of Snow White, the dwarfs do not have proper names, but numbers. Number One has the demeanor of a bristling military man, while on the other end of the scale, Seven is the voice of sagacity. Among the other dwarfs are a worrier, a logician, a joker (who can't get enough of Snow White's "knock, knock" jokes), one who always drowsy, with Four, being in the middle, rather moderate in all matters. Holt nails them all. He even gives each of them a different physicality, most delightful when Snow White insists on teaching them all to dance.
The dwarfs are differentiated with simple elements of attire: an apron for Snow White; a lacy cape for the queen; and a cap that can be any one of the seven dwarfs, depending on how he positions it on his head. Of course, voice characterizations and posture also play into creating the characters. The switches from one character to another, and sometimes the same character switching from one actor to another, raise gales of laughter. In some scenes Holt plays all seven dwarfs almost at once, tugging at his hat and changing his voice to become another member of the band, at breakneck speed. It is a delight for the audience, and an impressive feat of comedic acting.
Barnes has arranged the flexible space in the Cargill with the audience seated on risers around three sides of the performing space, creating a thrust stage that allows everyone to be close to the actors. On the fourth wall is a wondrously spreading tree with gnarled, twisting branches designed by Mikail Kachman. The tree branches extend out over the stage floor, with limbs dripping from the ceiling as well, so there is no doubt that we are deep in the woods. In the base of the tree is the doorway into the dwarfs' cottage. On a platform nestled in the tree trunk, musical director and wizard of sound-making Victor Zupanc provides both musicopening the show with a warm eastern-European flavored accordionand audio effects, including a delightful assortment of bird songs.
The lighting, designed by Rebecca Fuller Jensen, makes visceral the woodmen's regret, the forest's warm embrace of Snow White, the dwarfs' playfulness, the evil doing of the queen, and the other moods that course through the show, particularly when lightening is called for. Annie Cady's playful costumes look like items buried among the old clothes in a grandparent's attic, whimsically patched together.
The way these two actors gamely work together as they carry out their charge to enact the tale offers insights into the art of storytelling and a good lesson in the power of teamwork, fueled by flexibility, creativity and determination. Barnes' staging also makes the case that less can be much more when combined with unfettered imagination and a sense of humor. This version also provides an alternative ending that may appeal to audience members who wince at the notion that every girl's dream is to marry a prince.
There can be no argument against the choices Greg Barnes, Joy Dolo Dean Holt and company make in their zippy, funny, inventive, and altogether satisfying re-telling of this classic tale. Young children love to have favorite stories told over and over. This repeat version of Snow White offers the double reward of being familiar and altogether new in ways that entertain all ages.
Snow White runs through December 8, 2019, at Children's Theatre Company, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis MN. Adult tickets are $20.00 - $56.00. Discounts for children (17 and under), seniors (62+), college students and members of the military. Rush Tickets for unsold seats available at the box office two hours before each performance: $15.00. For tickets and information, call 612-874-0400 or visit childrenstheatre.org. Recommended for age five and up.
Written and Directed by: Greg Banks; Scenic Design: Mikail Kachman; Costume Designer: Annie Cady; Lighting Designer: Rebecca Fuller Jensen; Sound Design: Victor Zupanc; Dramaturg: Miriam Weisfeld; Assistant Lighting Designer: Kathy Maxwell; Stage Managers: Chris Schweiger and Stacy McIntosh; Assistant Stage Manager: Shelby Reddig; Assistant Director: Joshua Zapata-Palmer; Assistant Lighting Designer: Erin Belpedio; Assistant Sound Designer: Katherine Horowitz.
Cast: Joy Dolo (Snow White), Dean Holt (Four), Victor Zupanc (Musician).