With the help of Dong Xi, an instrumental duo playing the Chinese dulcimer and percussion, the play commences with heightened anticipation. As the feathery sounds peek, the stage goes black as the bangs of a struck gong echoes through the intimate black box theatre.
On a mountaintop, the tale begins with two spirit snakes (puppets), White Snake and Green Snake, played by Eunice Bae and Momo Nakamura, jovially studying the way of the Tao.
Eagerly seeking enlightenment, the two morph into human forms and descend together to live among mortals.
In a nearby town, White Snake meets a modest pharmacist’s assistant and falls in love. Through a series of orations by Minstrel-like narrators, the two, White Snake and Xu Xian, marry and start a family. But what epic love story would it be without a villain aiming to destroy the passion that enthralls the two?
Their love onstage is delicately paired with subtle limericks and awe-inspiring ballads. Beautifully executed, The White Snake ensemble seems to carefully hit each mark within their theatrical performance.
Mild humor, striking puppeteering and brilliant imagery propels this production forward but a disconnect sits in the air: perhaps the lengthy spontaneous narrations or the presentation of ancient dialogue. Something ingrained within the script obstructs the connection one could experience with the material.
Artistic Director Allison Arkell Stockman takes a well-intentioned leap and lands adjacent to Zimmerman’s original 2012 production. Complete with ancient Chinese idioms, extravagant costume designs and vocal talents worthy of a grand theatre, The White Snakes surprises and soothes onlookers.
Debuting at Constellation Theatre, both Bae and Nakamura delight as White Snake and Green Snake. The duo’s elegant and lighthearted comedy is refreshingly fitting. Innocent in nature, the characters produce appealing performances with one another.
Not as bold as previous installments in Constellation’s Season of Epic Love, still, The White Snake, based on the classic Chinese legend dating back to 981 CE, remains a timeless romance, and will leave lasting impressions on viewers.
Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7741; www.constellationtheatre.org