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February 25: The White Snake, Baltimore Center Stage

I head up to Center Stage on average every season because there ends up being a can't miss show. Last year, it was an all-female As You Like It with my adored Sophia Jean Gomez as Orlando and Angela Reed as Jaques. Best Jaques ever. This season, it was Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of the Chinese fable The White Snake, directed by Natsu Onoda Power. It's by definition compelling.

Last time I cried so much at a show was Come from Away. Before that, may well have been Allison Stockman's production of Zimmerman's Metamorphoses. Tears streaming down cheeks they are dripping off kind of crying. I didn't see much of Allison's production because the end of every story was so blurry from the tears. I was a weepy mess at the end of The White Snake. Natsu and Allison can switch off directing all the Zimmerman.

Zimmerman's script plays with a number of variations on the story, calling attention to divergences and options the playwright hasn't chosen. Also shares out narration among the ensemble - it's patently a Zimmerman text. What Natsu adds is a multi-racial but heavily Asian cast and band (the band covering western and eastern instruments) that also includes two out trans actors of colour. Coming this week, with the Trump administration's revocation of federal protections for trans children in public schools, this means a hell of a lot in a story that is about changing form and battling for love and acceptance in the face of institutionalised patriarchal oppression.

Because holy shit, The White Snake is fascinating. White Snake is a snake demon living atop a mountain who has followed the ways of the Tao and studied intensely and over centuries become very powerful and very enlightened. Her studies have given her the ability to call on spirits and change the weather and change her form. Zimmerman knits together a few versions: in one, she meets the Bodhisattva Guanyin, who tells her that to achieve perfect enlightenment, White Snake must descend to earth to do a kindness to the reincarnation of a man who once saved her life. Zimmerman tells us this, then restarts with another version, in which White Snake's restlessness drives her down to the mountain to experience the world - and who is to say that a rather forgotten dream of a bodhsattva isn't the cause of her restlessness? She goes in the company of another snake spirit who, when they are in human form, will act as her maid. White Snake immediately falls in love with an apothecary's assistant - they marry, go into business together, have a child, and are broken apart by the abbot of a local monastery who knows her to be a demon and is insistent upon any action to save her husband. White Snake has twice risked her life and used all her powers to save her husband, yet she fears what will happen when he discovers she is not human. And what happens is that he says, "I know what you are. You are someone who loves me so fiercely and so well that I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you, wherever your home is, whatever shape you take." He loves her for her personality, her hard work, her love. And after this declaration, they have their baby, and then the evil abbot comes back and succeeds in trapping her under a stone pagoda because fucking patriarchy.

So you can see why having a couple of trans actors (one playing the bodhisattva) was a little extra for this one.

And there's puppetry and music and such cleverly hilarious ensemble work, and there's city people and a forest adventure among the animal spirits with a Crane who is a complete asshole who totally destroys White Snake's self esteem, and it was so beautiful and so much fun and then I ended up a weepy mess.

I am so glad I'm getting Arabian Nights this spring, too, this one from Allison.
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Mme Bahorel

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