Who doesn’t love a good fable?
The legend of the White Snake is one of China’s Four Great Folktales: More than a millennium old, it deals in themes of love, deception, betrayal, and transmogrification in its tale of two magic snakes who, after years of study, gain the ability to take human form and walk among the civilized world. Constellation Theatre Company’s The White Snake, going on now until May 26 at the Source Theatre, adds lots of good music, sumptuous costumes, welcome humor and spinning parasols to the ride.
As adapted by Mary Zimmerman and directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, White Snake is multi-ethnic, sweet and brave, and fit for all ages. Bring your kids, bring your visiting grandma.
Eunice Bae stars as White Snake, a centuries-old serpentine spirit who is enlightened as all hell, but feels something is missing. So she and her friend Green Snake, or Greenie (Momo Nakamura), use their “wisdom” to transform into women and travel down their high mountain to the city of Hangzhou, where they quickly become entangled in human life. Bae spies a handsome young man near the city’s West Lake with whom she feels a connection — and with whom she will become romantically, inextricably, and dangerously involved. Like other Whitesnakes after her, she wonders: Is this love?
Bae and Nakamura lead a strong ensemble cast. The former seems to savor performing back and forth across the spectrum from “woman” to “immortal spirit.” The latter is playing a rather clichéd loud-mouthed sidekick type, but her punchline deliveries are so good you don’t really mind.
The horizon-and-parlor set from Daniel Ettinger and practical yet whimsical costumes by Frank Labovitz leave nothing to be desired, ditto lights from Max Doolittle and props designed by Alexander Rothschild. And the aforementioned music — from Constellation mainstay Tom Teasley and Chao Tian — is one of the best parts of the show, with drums and dulcimer conjuring an almost mythic scene. One note on sound effects: Kill the maraca when it’s supposed to be for the title character. The only snakes that rattle live in the Americas.
Things don’t entirely work out for White Snake in her strange journey. But she cures diseases, battles an evil monk, brings someone back from the dead — nbd. In Western culture, snakes are pretty much never sympathetic. This one from the East, however, just might win you over.