The lights reveal a figurine on a pedestal—regal, decked head to foot, shimmering, amid the mist. Slowly, cautiously, with a twitch here and a jerk there, that figurine—the Snow Queen—comes to life. This queen’s newly-found powers will be tested in the story that follows—and prove to be formidable powers indeed. For every move Acacia Danielson makes in the title role of Synetic Theater’s production of The Snow Queen (directed by Ryan Sellers) is riveting, and as precise, as the finest cut diamond.
Synetic Theater has opened their stage to the choreography of Kelly Fine, whose work is familiar from productions elsewhere in the Washington area; and it is clear that we have an artist whose aesthetic is at home with Synetic’s unique, propulsive storytelling style. The changes in mood, physicality, the visual sense of humor, from one vignette to the next, are all in the same dynamic spirit. It is clear that the vision for this company has caught on, well beyond the confines of their Crystal City venue.
Hans Christian Andersen’s story is a natural for this time of year, with its themes of adventure, heroism, and a kindness that conquers all. Oh, and snow—lots of it (just wait for the finale!). Once the Snow Queen awakes, the adventure begins: we see two children at play, Kai and Gerda, whose games are abruptly halted by the Queen’s deep chill. The Queen captures Kai, and it now becomes Gerda’s task to rescue him, guided through a series of great adventures, led in part by the birds and butterflies she has charmed with her good heart.
Moira Todd’s Gerda is a joyful thing to watch—she projects just the right balance of decency, courage, and resolve as she encounters the odd fairy-tale characters Andersen tosses blithely in her path. As Kai, Joshua Cole Lucas captures the boyish naiveté of a boy who is forced to submit to the Queen’s wiles. They spend the bulk of the story apart, but the chemistry between these two when together is charming and infectious.
The episodes that form Andersen’s story offer opportunities for a star turn or two; Irene Hamilton creates a hilarious, petulant Dream Princess, whose reign is as ridiculous as the wigs her courtiers have to wear (courtesy of Alexa Duimstra’s brilliant costume design). And in a completely different mood, Maria Simpkins is all brass and bravado as the Little Robber Girl (decked with a tellingly pink yarn cap the grown-ups might appreciate). The ensemble, led by Dylan Arredondo and Darius Johnson, manage the transitions in scene, physicality, timbre, and timing with ease.
A frozen rose, clutched in Gerda’s hand, is one of the constants throughout her journey, and Doug Del Pizzo’s lighting design has the finesse to enable us to follow that seemingly tiny object through all that follows. Del Pizzo’s kaleidoscope of cues mirrors the briskly-paced action on the stage, coordinated brilliantly with Resident Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s equally stellar, complex, and whimsical score that ranges from orchestral to contemporary to cartoonish; the kids are even likely to hear a Minion or two chattering away amid all the mayhem.
My advice, for parents planning to take your kids to see this production: be sure you have read the story to them, once if not twice. Not only is it a joy to share stories like this, Andersen has a sense of humor that’s designed to keep the grown-ups engaged as well. More importantly, if they already know the story going in, and know the brief synopsis included in your program (Emily Whitworth’s adaptation takes a liberty or two), they’ll be able to follow the silent action with greater ease. Half the fun of a Synetic production lies in the ability to appreciate their impeccable storytelling skills; it’s inside information well worth having.
Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, without intermission.
Scenic Designer, Phil Charlwood; Props Designer, Keli Jones; Sound Designer/Audio Engineer, Thomas Sowers