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Snakes In The Grass

Saturday 18 February 2012

Every year for the past couple of years, OSF has produced a play sourced from a non-Western tradition. A few years ago, it was The Clay Cart. In 2010, it was Throne of Blood. This year, it’s The White Snake, a new adaptation of a classic Chinese folktale dating to at least the early 7th Century AD. While the original tale was apparently very basic (bad snake!) this version is closer to the representations told since the Ming Dynasty. The basic idea is a love story between two disparate souls, and the evil forces who try to keep them apart.

Let’s see, where do I start?

This is probably one of the best presentations I’ve seen in 20 years at the Festival. How’s that for faint praise?

The story is simple, but heavily nuanced. There are magic snakes, an evil priest, a slightly dopey love interest, and a collection of minor characters who add umami to the dish. One of the more amazing parts is the puppetry.

Okay, just stop. Across time and space I can hear your eyes rolling at this–”Puppetry?!? What else, mimes? Dancing dogs? Endearing child prodigy characters?” No, no, NO!

The really amazing bit is that whenever the puppets were on stage, being handled by their on-stage wranglers, I could not notice the handlers; I only had eyes for the puppets. I am not normally a fan of puppets, so this is unusual to say the least.

Other bits: Richard Howard and the dramatic instructions for Chinese drama; Jack Willis as the evil Fa Hai; Tanya McBride channelling Xena, Gabrielle, and Buffy in her kick-ass sidekick role.

But the one that really got me was Emily Sophia Knapp as Doubt. Never again will Doubt trouble me; I’ll always know it’s just Emily, with her scary Lee Press-On Nails-of-Fear trying to rattle me. Since she’s about as scary as Tinkerbelle, Doubt will never trouble me again.

The ending will definitely want to you make you hug your honey/sweetie. Be prepared, bring hankies, for you and your fellow viewers.

Incredibly highly recommended. Buy tickets as soon as you can; they will go fast once the reviews get out, and it closes mid-season.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The White SnakeAngus Bowmer Theatre, now through July 8th.

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