Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Rogue Does It Again

Tucson's Rogue Theatre has hit the jackpot again with their breathtakingly imaginative production of Mary Zimmerman's  The White Snake. The play is adapted from an ancient Chinese folk tale about a "non human" in the form of a snake who comes down from her mountain home with her faithful servant to try out life on earth. She falls in love with a nice but impoverished mortal man and in no time at all we have "trouble right there in river city."

The Rogue company has a tiny auditorium, a tight stage, and more limited resources than Broadway or major resident theatres, but they do have some jewels in their pockets.  For instance there is a magnificent company of actors--several of whom have worked together for years-- and a talented director (Cynthia Meier) who knows how to draw the best out of them.  They also have a faithful subscription audience that allows them to program exciting and challenging work.

The Rogue offering is leaner in terms of numbers of cast, costume changes, and eye popping scenery than the 2014 Goodman Theatre production but it is in a couple of ways more satisfying.  The leaner meaner production design called forth more imaginative participation from the audience and it drew me into the characters rather than encouraging me to watch an operatic pageant unfolding. The Goodman stage was filled with beauty, but encouraged me to watch the spectacle from a distance. In Tucson the humor in the production was pulled to the front.  Holly Griffith's "Green Snake" in particular played up her servant's role with a full complement of facial exhortations and huffy walks. This does make the transition back to seriousness at the end a little tricky, but overall this was a production that was great fun, truly imaginative, and ultimately thought provoking.  What more can one ask of the theatre?

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