Review: Blessed Unrest’s Bare-Bones ‘Snow Queen’ Brings the Story To Life
By Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, January 3, 2018
In the last few years, Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Snow Queen has become even more popular since the release of Disney’s animated film Frozen. This popularity will only become more intense as the musicalized stage-version opens on Broadway later this season. The actual fairy tale doesn’t have Ana or Elsa in it, but it does have two children, Gerda and Kay, who are best friends and next door neighbors. The two do everything together and play from dawn until dusk. One day as the two are playing, Kay feels something pierce his eye and then his heart. Gerda tries to help him, but in a matter of minutes he has turned hateful towards her, and runs away into the snow where he finds the Snow Queen who whisks him away to her palace in the far North. Gerda doesn’t take this lightly, and after Kay doesn’t return during the course of the day, she sets off to find him, encountering many obstacles along the way. These chance meetings include a woman who’s food makes Gerda forget her journey, two crows who help her find someone who can help her locate Kay, and a friendly reindeer named Ba who provides Gerda with transportation.
In a new production by Blessed Unrest, The Snow Queen magically comes to life through interpretive dance, creative staging, and a spectacular cast. But this is not your typical production. In this reimagined and stripped-down version directed by Jessica Burr, Kay (Todd Grace) and Gerda (Nancy McArthur) take the audience on a very imaginative journey that could only be seen on a downtown stage.
Instead of elaborate costumes, the cast of The Snow Queen are allowed to move their bodies throughout the entire show, using it to their advantage. Dance and movement are incorporated showing Gerda’s journey north, through which the actors seem to be getting an extreme workout on stage simultaneously. For example, once Kay is taken by the Snow Queen, he doesn’t just disappear offstage. Instead, he moves about the back of the stage for the remainder of the show until Gerda arrives at the Snow Queen’s palace. And instead of placing actors inside a reindeer costume, two actors actually play Ba by placing deer antlers on their heads and carry Gerda around the stage on their shoulders. This is yet another display of Burr’s creativity as a director when it comes to staging a production in a limited space.
In many shows that revolve around children, the younger protagonists are often not given much say in anything that happens to them. Instead, their story is stunted and not fully fleshed out. But in this production of The Snow Queen, Gerda takes center stage during the entire show. And not only that, she is seen as smart, adventurous and strong when many different and trying situations are thrown her way. Instead of giving up or asking for help, she pushes herself on. She is only supposed to be around eight or nine years old, but she seems to have the strength and courage of someone with a much higher level of maturity, which is very refreshing to see.
This production has many unique elements, but one that stands out is the set design, or rather, lack thereof. There are almost no set pieces used in the show, except for a ladder, a window pane covered in plastic and a white curtain, the stage is completely bare, leaving the audience to create all the necessary images with their own imagination. It’s rare when a production requires this level of mental imaging, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The audience is able to conjure up all their own images and we could clearly see Gerda galloping away on Ba’s back, or scaling a castle wall. The lack of backdrops and props ultimately made the show stronger. May this serve as a note of advice to productions that tend to overproduce and think more is better—there is definitely something to be said for this level of creative simplicity and I would challenge more producers to consider this approach in their future endeavors.
The Snow Queen produced by Blessed Unrest at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, NYC through January 14, 2018. Written by Matt Opatrny, based on the story by Hans Christian Anderson, created by Blessed Unrest. Directed by Jessica Burr; scenic design by Samuel Vawter; costume design by Sydney Maresca; lighting design by Jay Ryan; sound design by Beth Lake. Cast: Rich Brown, Todd Grace, Tatyana Knot, Zach Libresco, Nancy McArthur, Celli Pitt, Joshua Wynter.
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Cover: (l. to r.) Todd Grace and Tatyana Kot in Blessed Unrest’s ‘The Snow Queen;’ photo: Maria Baranova.