World Stages: International Theater Festival- The National Theatre of China’s ‘Green Snake’ at The Kennedy Center

FOUR STARS
The World Stages: International Theater Festival takes the center stage at The Kennedy Center, March 10-30, 2014 bringing together some of today’s most exciting theatrical visionaries presenting an unprecedented focus on theatre from around the globe. Twenty-two theatrical offerings from nineteen countries, and every continent except Antarctica, are represented in this theater Festival of dynamic stories examining contemporary issues and universal themes. Curated by Alicia Adams, Vice President, International Programming, thirteen fully staged productions will be featured including nine U.S. premieres, as well as four theater-focused installations, panel discussions, two staged readings, and two Directors forums.

The delights in this extraordinary assembling of theatrical treasures comprise World Stages: International Theater Festival 2014 – the Kennedy Center’s first theater-focused international festival!

The Grass is Always Greener – Review: The National Theatre of China’s ‘Green Snake’

Xin  Baiqing (Fa Hai)   and Qin Hailu - (Green Snake/Ciao Qing ). Photo courtesy of The National Theatre of China.

Xin Baiqing (Fa Hai) and Qin Hailu – (Green Snake/Ciao Qing ). Photo courtesy of The National Theatre of China.

Two female snake spirits become human and learn about love and suffering in the U.S. Premiere of The National Theatre of China’s Green Snake playing at The Kennedy’s Center Eisenhower Theater March 27-30, as part of the continuing World Stages: International Theatre Festival.

The new, stylized staging of a 600-year-old Chinese folk myth in which the two goddess demons find themselves beyond redemption is directed by Playwright Tian Qinxin along with co-writer An Ying, adapting Lillian Lee’s (Li Bihua) original novel for a contemporary, edgier Green Snake production. (Lillian Lee, author of ninety books, is best known for Farewell, My Concubine). In 1993, Tsu i Hark turned the popular tale into a fantasy film, and was a box office hit starring Maggie Chung.

The origins of Green Snake existed in oral tradition long before any written compilation. Over the years this saga of good and evil, has evolved from a horror story into a romance. This retelling of the Chinese legend Madam White Snake speaks to the supernatural versus the secular world, and the human fatal tendencies of lust, desire, and greed. It is a human failing to want what you can’t or don’t have. Or is it?

How deep is your love? Does true love transcend physical desire?  Is love eternal?

Green Snake is the bizarre, carnal tale of two magical snakes who decide to experience human desire and emotional life. Focused on three worlds – human, Buddha and demon – this drama follows the traditional and more extreme expectations of love.

The two demon snakes travel to the human world to live a better life, and in this lush fairy tale, both snakes are charming and deadly attractive. Transforming into the human form of ravishing females, the two Ssss . . .  serpentine their way into creating a spell that will lure a man.

White Snake (a 1000-year-old spirit) does her best at trying to act like a human but Green Snake (a 500-year-old spirit) finds it too hard to change.

The pure minded White Snake/Su Zhen (Jin Ge falls in love with Xiu Xian (Dong Chang), an innocent man oblivious to her true nature, and marries him.  Green Snake/Xiao Qing (Qin Hailu), her passionate, rebellious sister has problems understanding the deep, human emotions her sister is so capable of enjoying, and finds difficulty hiding her true snake self. She is drawn to a Buddhist monk and the leader of the Jinshan Temple, Fai Hai (Xin Baiqing), who is discovering his own weaknesses, and battling his own lustful desires and determination to remain celibate. Although Fa Hai does not accept Green Snake’s affection, he understands her emotions. “Slaying the demons is my duty,” states Fa Hai.

All four discover morality is not as simple as they had thought and dreamed. Matters get complicated with unpredictable consequences.

The lavish lighting by Chao Yi and the soundscape by Zhang Ziqian and composer, David Jones is striking Perhaps it was wrong to anticipate a colorful and visually rich set design. Green Snake, aside from its colorful characters is a visually subdued set with tans and grays, but still elegantly effective. The costumes and styling by Chan Ku-fang are gorgeous simplicity. There is a cement wall and a silver-gray backdrop of an embossed Chinese Pagoda. Hand-held umbrellas serve the main prop because it continuously rains throughout the play.

White Snake (Jin Ge), Fa  Hai (Xin Baiting), and Green Snake (Qin Hailu). Photos courtesy of The National Theatre of China.

White Snake (Jin Ge), Fa Hai (Xin Baiting), and Green Snake (Qin Hailu). Photo courtesy of The National Theatre of China.

Occupying the beauty of that deep, visual space is Quinxin’s lyrical direction with her choreographic movement of the actors and blocking.   It’s strategic but sensual-flowing, and rhythmic. Green Snake remains original while retaining the classical elements of the ancient folklore. The likeable cast fully commands the stage in this eleven-act play (although the last act felt gratuitous and tacked on for American audiences), and delivers a pleasing evening of entertainment with style and humor.

Do you believe wisdom and true love are brought along by time and experience? Or, is throwing caution to the wind and taking risks with your heart, the answer.

Like Green Snake, the grass is always greener… except when it’s not.

Performed in Putonghua with projected English titles. Recommended for mature audiences.

Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission (Act One – 55 min.; Intermission – 15 min.; Act Two – 65 min).

The National Theatre of China’s ‘Green Snake’  played March 27 – 30, 2014 in the Eisenhower Theatre at The Kennedy Center-2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets to future Kennedy Center events, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

LINKS

Read Sydney-Chanele Dawkins’ reviews of shows in the World Stages: International Theater Festival:

The Suit.
Rupert.
Tapioca Inn: Incendios.
Harmsaga.
Death & the Maiden (La Muerte y La Doncella). 
Savannah Bay.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Penny Plain.
Not by Bread Alone.
Green Snake.
Solomon and Marion.

World Stages Festival YouTube Channel.

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