SHOWING : December 05, 2008 - December 28, 2008
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Leaving me Cold|
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 ||
Synchronicity Performance Group has perhaps given itself an insurmountable task – in place of its popular 2006 & 2007 holiday show “A Year With Frog and Toad,” the company has decided to go all wintery on us this year, mounting the Ruth MacKenzie adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale, “The Snow Queen.”|
The company brings its usual standards of professionalism to the task. This is a coldly beautiful-looking piece, well-designed, well-acted, and highlighting some of the best video/projection work I’ve seen. The classic story, with its idealistic faith in friendship, is a perfect anti-me message for the holidays. And there are moments of sheer brilliance in it – from-the-gut emotions that may seem out-of-place in a children’s play, but which nonetheless convince without frightening the more tender ears in our midst.
But, if I should say the entire production left me a little cold, I hope you take that is more than a snarky pun. This is indeed a production filled with glorious parts, but that nevertheless add up to a whole significantly less than the sum of its parts.
First, to recap the plot, Gerda and Kai are lifelong friends, the sort who may one day grow romantically entangled, but, for now, are enjoying a collegial youth of shared riddles, somber reflections, and sober trust. Then, one night, a sinister storm descends on their Finnish town, and Kai is struck in the eye with an enchanted crystal. He turns all cold and crisp, mean insult replacing friendly jocularity. He is whisked away by the Snow Queen, presumably never to be seen again.
But Gerda trusts her friend, and sets out on a long and dangerous quest to find him. She encounters a philosophical raven, a friendly Prince and Princess, a frighteningly wicked band of cutthroat thieves (a scene that may, indeed, be too intense for younger viewers), a shy reindeer, and a happy end to her quest.
All this is told in song and story, with ensemble members taking on multiple roles and functions. Herein lies my first problem with the show. The songs, while suggesting folk music of the north, are very bland and monotonous. Few (if any) venture out of a one-octave range, and many stop the show dead. Do we really need to hear the Prince sing about the snacks and foods he’s going to serve his new friend Gerda?
Another problem I had was the too-easy resolution to conflicts and problems. After breaking into the bedchamber of the Prince and Princess, their initial fear is transformed into “Master of the House” conviviality with no explanation or motivation whatsoever. Later, when a cruel thief is keeping Gerda prisoner at knifepoint, she only has to offer the gift of “friendship” to resolve all difficulty.
And, while the scene in which Kai gets “saved” is intense and effective (when Gerda takes his enchanted mirror, Kai’s desperate reaction is easily as intense as a junkie being torn from his habit (or Gollum being torn from his Ring)). But it’s followed by a really lame “Defeat of the Snow Queen” sequence which can’t be believed even when it’s seen.
In spite of all these reservations, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the cast. In the leads, Tracy Vaden Moore is a plucky and dynamic Gerda – this is her story, and I, for one, would follow her anywhere she wants to take us. Nick Arapoglou is Kai, and succeeds admirably in making us like him, even after that crystal turns him into an obnoxious jerk. And Sarah Onsager’s brittle attractive Snow Queen is everything I’ve come to expect from this too-little-used dynamo. I loved how she dominates her scenes with a look and a sneer. And, if it’s not politically incorrect to observe, I loved her how handicap was used – in place of her hand was a glowing crystal that was part weapon, part scepter of power.
JC Long, fresh off his excellent turn in the Henry VI plays, is also very good here. He is in almost every scene, first as a violinist, then as the raven, then as the reindeer. This may sound like an odd complaint, but he was perhaps too good. Throughout, I was watching him, not the various puppets he was manipulating, and often, I forgot that the real character was the puppet, not the man pulling the strings.
As I said above, I also loved the design of the piece. Projections and harsh blue gobos totally transported me into the world of the show, and a small turntable gave an eerie choreographed feel to the whole enterprise. The projections, used on the floor and the backdrops, added to the dream-like quality of Gerda’s quest, even taking the surreal form of dreams at one point.
Observing the children in the audience, most seemed to be having a good time, there was little (if any) restlessness, and no one seemed to be overly traumatized by the robber scene (with its death-of-a-main character sequence). Unfortunately, my own daughter could not come because, for some reason, she thought a friend’s birthday party would be more fun than a play with Daddy. Kids!
Still and all, for me, the combination of the too-quick plot transitions and the duller-than-bland songs, gave the entire production an icy intellectual feel that, ironically, appealed more to my analytical sense than to my emotions. It left my mind feel all hot-cocoa warm and fuzzy, but left my heart unmoved, unwarmed, and even a little icy-prickly.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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by David Shire (music), Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics)