Thursday, January 25, 2018

Review: Warmly Dancing And Battling Across The Snowy Wilderness

By Ed Malin

Blessed Unrest presents another delightfully whimsical story and dance piece, Matt Opatrny’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”.  Artistic Director Jessica Burr directs a cast of six, who cover eighteen roles, who use a few ladders and their own bodies to create scenery, and who have choreographed the piece.  The show is appropriate for ages seven and up, so, like me, you can bring your curious youngster.
Do you remember the time when you were a girl and you jumped over rooftops to play with the boy next door?  In a Scandinavian city, Gerda (Nancy McArthur) is happily growing up in the company of her friend Kay (Todd Grace) and her Nana (Celli Pitt).  Nana loves the children and sings joyous songs such as the 1930s standard “The Very Thought of You”.  As Gerda and Kay’s adolescence continues, we see a beautiful flurry of dancing snowflakes, portrayed by the cast wearing snowflake sweaters.  Kay, mesmerized by these snowflakes, leaves town in the company of the icily beautiful Snow Queen (Tatyana Kot).  Gerda hears that Kay is missing, presumed to have drowned in a river.  She cannot believe what she has heard, and so when Spring comes around she embarks on a journey to the far north.
photo by Maria Baranova
Andersen’s long and enchanting story becomes a beautiful 80-minute journey onstage.  Gerda meets a Sorcerer (Joshua Wynter) whose magical garden of flowers and berries (portrayed by the cast) makes one forget one’s desires.  After escaping the sorcery, Gerda speaks with a couple of crows (Zach Libresco and Celli Pitt), who have some charming jokes which don’t translate into human language.  They have, however, seen Kay journeying further north, and help Gerda break into a castle where they know a young man is wearing a red coat.  Although it’s the wrong castle, the Princess (Tatyana Kot) and Prince (Joshua Wynter) help Gerda gear up for her continuing quest.  Next, a gang of bandits capture our heroine and give her as a plaything to their youngest bandita (Tatyana Kot), knife-trick enthusiast, keeper of wood doves (portrayed by the cast) and yet another young person who is just looking for a friend.  The doves have seen Kay, and the bandita kindly gives Gerda her favorite reindeer, Bah (portrayed by the four-footed team of Joshua Wynter and Zach Libresco; Zach replaces Rich Brown, who was in the ensemble for the first half of the run).  A wild ride brings them to the cottage of a woman in Lapland (Tatyana Kot), who writes a message on a dried fish to be given to her sister in Finland (Celli Pitt), who has seen the Palace of the Snow Queen.  This has certainly been an impressive endurance race across a fantastic land mass, a fusion of its nearest competitors, “Faust” and “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”.  Ultimately, Gerda sees Kay, wearing only white, alone in the snow.  Kay, who feels nothing, is slowly reminded of who he is and why Gerda came to find him.  This part melts my heart—no pun intended.  Have you ever wished that you couldn’t feel your own pain?  Maybe you shouldn’t wish for this.  The Snow Queen may be beautiful and alluring, but she is no match for the love of your loved ones.  As Kay and Gerda retrace their steps, they say hello to all of their (mostly) supportive friends, brigands, sorcerers, royalty, crows, sorcerers and then Nana.  The young people have grown up. 
You’ve got to love the way Celli Pitt’s song sets up a lot of imagery in the play:
“I see your face in every flower, your eyes in stars above
It’s just the thought of you, the very thought of you, my love”
What we want to see can become our lives.  Hopefully we can learn if we are on the right path.   It’s a timeless story, with many twists and updates that make it ideal for Blessed Unrest.  Samuel Vawter’s scenic design gives us the wonderland of the north, where we use our imagination for most things and also must remember that if we can’t fit under a ladder, we can’t enter the doorway of a cottage.  Jay Ryan's lighting greatly helps show us where we are and how cold we might be.  The cast never stop moving, using Sydney Maresca’s spare and beautiful costumes to show so much of the character of the north.  For example, the reindeer Ba comes alive thanks to Joshua Wynter and Zach Libresco, two stripped-down lads who each hold a horn on one side of their heads and love to psych themselves up for a trot.  Tatyana Kot is elegant as a whirling snowflake, a keepin’-it-real princess, various flowers, and the silent but dazzling Snow Queen.  Our heroine Nancy McArthur looks like someone who will never give up, and her immense energy and dedication will inspire you.  Todd Grace’s rescue from solitude and winter (see also: lotus eaters, Narnia) is perhaps a gentle reminder that melancholy/depression/addiction don’t have to define us.