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Snow Queen brings out the inner child

by Lenise Willis

lenise@yesweekly.com

Triad Stage has certainly put its talents — and organizational skills — to the test this winter, presenting an original play on its main stage, a classic at Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem and all while hosting Paper Lantern Theatre’s production of The Santaland Diaries in its UpStage Cabaret.

The latest Preston Lane original performing in Triad Stage’s Pyrle theater is a magical play that both awakens the audience’s inner child and nourishes the mature adult’s need for deeper meaning and rich culture.

Snow Queen at its surface is about a little girl’s journey through the Appalachian Mountains to find a lost friend who has been mesmerized and kidnapped by the Snow Queen, the spirit of winter.

The tale begins, as most fables do, with children gathered by a warm fire, listening intently, and then echoes out toward a frosty forest as the story slowly drifts to life.

A narrator, or story weaver, helps guide the audience through the story as it unfolds, so that we always feel like children listening excitedly from our snug bed. Only instead of having to craft the pictures in our imagination, we get to actually see the dancing flowers, talking crow and “live” river spirit.

The play explores not just the art of oral tradition, but Native American, Scottish, Irish and Appalachian folklore.

The use of some very impressive puppets certainly brings to life Native American culture, especially when two actors carry great polar bear costumes on their backs. Most of the puppets, including a great stag, a mountain lion and a chicken were kept from being too childish because they were solid, elegant white.

The crow, operated by actor Scott Pattinson, stood out as my favorite. Not only is it a great comic relief, but Pattinson’s motions are so fluid, swift and life-like, that it’s as if the crow is truly flying and soaring on stage.

An excellent accent coach is what put the final touches on the play. The Appalachian accent creates a down-to-earth warmth and is well executed by narrator Gayton Scott, as well as Amy Hamel, Cinny Strickland and Dori Legg as three cannibal hillbillies.+

Twelve-year-old Autumn Routt and 10-year-old Nick Saunders also aid in creating the Appalachian setting with their twangy accents and delightful singing, but with an added touch of childlike innocence.

The set, designed by Howard C. Jones, fuses the worlds of home-folk reality and magic together through the use of a layered worn wooden floor and a backdrop of bare trees against a pitch-dark sky.

The floor is one that any might see in their grandmother’s house, one they, too, may have sat upon as they listened to talltales of their region.

It thus acts as a constant reminder of reality and a symbol of storytelling that helps anchor the audience as they’re thrown onto a magical journey. This is necessary because, with similar hints of Narnia, Oz and Wonderland, anything can happen in this world. Of course, at times the floor itself is a bit mystical as it moves and reveals trap doors.

The rustic backdrop works in contrast with its floor, creating a vast and lonely forest. A few lights laced through the screens create a flash of lightning and the twinkle of ice.

Layered as well, the screens keep the live folk band hidden, amplifying its numinous effect, and thus increasing its musical reach.

The original score crafted by Laurelyn Dossett, and the inclusion of a banjo and fiddle, complement the storyline well and cement it in its Appalachian setting.

Over all, the play has something for everyone. It’s not drenched in religious ideals or tradition, like most performances capitalizing on the holidays, but it still retains that same spiritual awe of love and nature. It’s funny, and sometimes ridiculous. It’s playful. It’s surprising. It’s magical. And it simply made me feel like a happy kid again. !

WANNA go?

Snow Queen performs at Triad Stage, located at 232 S. Elm St. in Greensboro, this week through Dec. 22. Tickets are $10-$48 depending on day and seating. C all 336.272.0160 or visit triadstage.org for tickets and additional information. Discounts are available for current students, teachers and professors.

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