AISLE SAY San Francisco


Written and Directed by Mary Zimmerman
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Roda Theatre
2015 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 647-2949

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"Brilliant" is the only word for "The White Snake," written and directed by the gifted Mary Zimmerman. After proving to be a hit at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland earlier this year, "The White Snake" has come to Berkeley Repertory Theatre, its co-producer, with nearly all of the Ashland cast intact plus all of the designers and musicians.

Based on a classic Chinese fable that has undergone many permutations through the centuries, this theatrically inventive work has become a love story in Zimmerman's hands. White Snake (Amy Kim Waschke) assumes the form of a beautiful woman so that she can thank the man, Xu Xian (Christopher Livingston), who saved her life when she was very young. She's accompanied by her outspoken, impetuous friend, Green Snake (Tanya Thai McBride). White Snake and Xu Xian fall in love and marry despite some of his doubts.

He's a pharmacist's assistant, but she sets him up in his own shop. It becomes quite successful because of White Snake's skill in devising effective remedies and healing people. They're happy until the villainous Fa Hai (Jack Willis), a Buddhist monk, arrives and tells Xu Xian that he's married to a snake. "It's just not natural," Fa Hai says, as the 100-minute, intermissionless tale nears its mythical end.

Zimmerman's staging employs some seemingly simple but effective techniques, such as a billowing blue cloth to simulate a river and descending strips of blue cloth to symbolize a rain storm. White Snake and Green Snake manipulate correspondingly colored snake puppets before assuming human forms.

Besides her writing and direction, the play attains its magical qualities through imaginative design elements, especially Mara Blumenfeld's colorful costumes. Daniel Ostling's uncluttered set design is augmented by Shawn Sagady's projections and complemented by T.J. Gerckens' lighting. Sound designer Andre Pluess also wrote the music, which is played by three costumed musicians below the stage.

Besides the four principals, the cast features seven other actors who play various roles: Cristofer Jean, Lisa Tejero, Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, Gina Daniels, Richard Howard, Emily Sophia Knapp and Vin Kridakorn.

Berkeley Rep's production is a great chance for those who saw "The White Snake" in Ashland to savor it all over again. Those who are seeing it for the first time are sure to be delighted and thrilled by its inventive theatricality.

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