In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen two productions from lower budget theater companies that manage to make a lot happen on stage without a lot of money.
Review: THE WHITE SNAKE by Mary Zimmerman. Produced by ReACT Theatre. Directed by David Hsieh. Music composed by Steven Tran. Costume Design by Kat Henwood. Lighting Design by Robert Falk. Sound Design by Mario Gomez. Scenic/Props Design by David Hsieh. Fight Choreography by Alyssa Kay Matthews. With Anna Saephan, Yena Han, Henry Vu, Ed Tonai, Christina Chon, Jessica Wu Barlas, Stanley Dang, Tim Takechi, Tammy Nguyen, Sean Nguyen, Kathy Hsieh. Onstage at 12th Avenue Arts from October 13 to November 18, 2018.
The first one has the benefit of a fantastic established script from acclaimed theater artist, Mary Zimmerman. It’s her take on a beloved Chinese folk tale, THE WHITE SNAKE and it’s being debuted in Seattle by veteran theater company ReAct Theatre at 12th Avenue Arts. In a nutshell synopsis, via Samuel French because life is too short to rewrite a plot synopsis:
In her latest theatrical production inspired by a classic story, Mary Zimmerman reimagines The White Snake, an ancient Chinese legend in which a snake spirit transforms herself into a beautiful woman in order to experience the human world. Adventuring down her mountainside with her companion, Green Snake, White Snake meets and falls in love with the humble, virtuous Xu Xian and convinces him to marry her. Together, the three friends open a pharmacy, but soon the remarkable healing powers of White Snake draw the attention of a treacherous monk, Fa Hai. Outraged at the union between a mortal and a snake spirit, Fa Hai takes it upon himself to destroy it. Zimmerman brings to this timeless romance her usual brilliant mix of ingenious stagecraft, song, abundant humor, and compassion.
The White Snake, like many of Mary Zimmerman’s works, mixes folklore, music, drama and comedy with generous helpings of colorful stagecraft including “magic”, bright costumes, puppetry, and innovative uses of sound and lights. While ReAct doesn’t have the budget to pull off all of those things, (the sound and lighting design is very basic) but there are some charming effects achieved including the use of fabrics to simulate rain and waves and the production features some very lovely costumes from Kat Henwood…I’m guessing the big costume budget is the reason for such a skimpy lighting grid.
As in many smaller theater companies with big casts, the level of acting talent can vary quite a bit from “experienced professional” to “promising newcomer” to “gifted amateur” to “they’re giving it their all!” The ensemble does a fine job overall with some hesitant performances here and there but fortunately this production has two very talented young women in the leading roles of the White Snake and the Green Snake with Anna Saephan making for a charming and commanding White serpent and Yena Han, very funny and sly as the Green.
There’s been a lot of dark theater in Seattle the last few weeks and the charm, wit and magic of The White Snake was a welcome relief from all the gloom and doom on local stages (and, in the news…) It is very much recommended.
Review: NIGHT PARADE by Kendal Uyeji and Tom Dang. Produced by Pork Filled Productions and REBATEnsemble. Directed by Tom Dang. Set Design by Robin Macartney. Costume Design by Natalie Shih. Lighting Design by Angelo Domitri. Sound Design by Tom Dang. Specialty Design by Steven Dang. Mask & Prop Design by Tom Dang. Animations by Sherilyn Eng. With Eloisa Cardona, Aimee Decker, Andrew Forrest, Erik Khamphouy, Van Lang Pham, Duncan Pound, Season Qiu, Emma Shafer, Frank Sun, Buddy Todd. Onstage from October 17 through November 3rd.
Another play exploring Asian themes is happening up north in the Crown Hill neighborhood… it’s Pork Filled Production’s and REBATEnsemble’s world premiere of NIGHT PARADE, a loose adaption of the Japanese folk tale, “Night of a Hundred Demons” by local artists Kendal Uyeji and Tom Dang and it’s an immersive theater piece where the audience moves about to follow the different chapters in the story. (Don’t worry…there is ample seating and the piece is only about an hour long).
It’s also seasonally appropriate with an emphasis on demons and spirits of the Japanese variety (similar to spirits you see in Miyazaki animated movies) but also rather obviously entwined with sections aparently inspired from the life of popular Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (who had a hugely popular show at Seattle Art Museum last year) including her issues with mental illness.
To be frank, the plot of Night Parade is a bit of a mess….it could use some rewriting and clarification as it (and the audience) meander around the gallery space playing host to a show by the artist in the play, Shunkuno Arashi and curated by a rather dim academic and his staff.
BUT, the atmosphere created by the talented artists involved, is the main reason to check out Night Parade.…there are some gorgeous visuals (and sounds) on display involving the setting, the costumes, and the use of props and masks. A lot of creative work has gone into this show and it does create a deliciously creepy and macabre atmosphere as the Parade of Demons marches before us. Director and co-writer Tom Dang also did the fantastic sound design for this play, as well as prop and mask design, obviously wears a lot of hats for this production but designwise, he’s aided by Natalie Shih’s innovative and imaginative costumes and “specialty design” by Steven Deng with some charmingly haunting projected animations by Sherilyn Eng. The space used for this production doesn’t have a proper overhead lighting grid, so the light design isn’t up to the standards of the rest of the elements, but it doesn’t distract from the overall excellence in the mood created.
The acting situation is again, a bit mixed, with a variety of talents on board but Aimee Decker was appropriately macabre as the artist with a lot of issues as is Elona Cardona as her mother and other characters. And, while he doesn’t speak or show his face, Duncan Pound created a couple of fascinating demon/spirit characters, one of them provocatively masked while the other is robed and used prosthetic legs to move around, creating a very realistic demonic/beast like personality.
Night Parade is a fun, spooky thrill ride but like many “thrill rides” could use a bit of help with its plotting and character development. It’s worth experiencing though, due to to its imaginative design elements and the sense of spooky horror created by the ensemble.