Humans are storytellers by nature. We communicate through story. It’s how we explain our motivations and share our history. Stories invigorate us, bring us together, and allow us to explore other worlds. Preston Lane’s Snow Queen, produced by Triad Stage for the second year in a row, explores that nature of story while giving us a spellbinding adventure to boot.
Every region has their own take on classic tales, and Preston Lane’s work is a regional adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Anderson fairytale of the same name. He places the legend somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains, a long time ago, and infuses the story with breathtaking original music by Laurelyn Dossett.
Gertie is on the journey of her life after her best friend Cade is kidnapped by the evil Snow Queen. And she’ll have to overcome witches, dream-eating demons, and her own self-doubt if she’s to find him again and return home.
You may recall Hans Christian Anderson’s “Snow Queen” was also the source material for the Disney mega-success “Frozen.” But that version deviates sharply from the original. And anyone who’s read any of the original Christian Anderson or Brothers Grimm stories will tell you, fairytales are weird. They don’t follow “classic” narrative conventions and they often have odd and creepy elements that you might not remember from Disney. In Cinderella, birds pluck out the eyes of the evil stepsisters. The Little Mermaid doesn’t find a happy ending with her prince, but instead the heroine turns to sea foam. In some versions, Sleeping Beauty wakes from a 100-year sleep pregnant and alone. While Triad’s Snow Queen never gets as dark as those tales, Preston Lane’s adaptation relies more on the Christian Anderson source material than Disney’s version to great success. It’s eerie and strange, and the Snow Queen feels like an impossible threat for our young protagonist. But Triad is also able to infuse the tale with moments of whimsy and even beauty.
Puppets, designed by Bill Brewer, are used to create a world populated with talking animals. The puppets are simple and featureless, almost ritualized, allowing the audience to participate in their creation. In one of the play’s more poignant moments, the action stops for a ballad by a mythical white-tailed stag. The audience could clearly see actor/puppeteer Brady Wease, but all eyes were on the stag as he sang. At this point, the audience was fully transported by the magic of the play and ready to invest a simple, white puppet with mythical attributes.
The set furthers a sense of magic and wonder. Wooden frost-covered planks thrust forward into the void, forming a simple but versatile set. And like Gertie’s journey, nothing is quite what it seems. Trap doors open to reveal talking rivers and singing plants. Rolling platforms come and go carrying in our Snow Queen.
Autum Routt’s performance as Gertie showed talent well beyond her years. She was the heart of the play, and her ability to openly display empathy allowed us to follow her sorrows and triumphs. Dylan Lowe imbued Cade with a wonderful innocence, and Emily Gardner Hall was cold and regal as the Snow Queen but showed warmth with her captive Cade. Gayton Scott gave a simple but engaging performance as The Story Weaver, our narrator. A versatile ensemble rounds out the cast and was able to perform multiple roles, human and animal alike. Laurelyn Dossett’s folk melodies elevate the play, transporting us to days of yore. Infusing a fairytale play with original regional music is an artistic gamble few theatres are willing to make, but here it worked wonders
A good story is timeless. You can hear it again and again and still want more, finding new things with every telling. But as we come of age, we come to realize that the most important story worth crafting is our own. Gertie is at that young, sensitive age at the cusp of womanhood. She’s beginning to see the difference between a fairytale and harsh reality, and is learning to rely on her own will, even when she might not know what lies ahead, crafting her own story as she goes. It’s a unique coming of age tale and a wonderful piece of theatre for young and old.
Snow Queen continues through Sunday, December 28. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.