Run Time: Closed July 8
Serpent spirits, meddling monks
In a beloved Chinese legend, a snake spirit disguised as a beautiful woman falls in love with a young scholar. White Snake keeps her true identity secret from him, but a disapproving monk persists in unmasking her. With the help of Green Snake, White Snake summons all her magic powers to defeat the spirits and monsters threatening her life and her great love. With live music and beautiful visual metaphors, Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman invites your imagination to her staging of this fantastical transcendent romance.
The story of The White Snake is an epic tale that has been passed down through both oral and written tradition through many centuries. As is the case for any folktale with this kind of legacy, characters and plot points have been altered, erased, added, and modified as the story moved from one culture to another. Although the story planted itself in various cultures across what is now the Middle East, Europe and Asia, it grew its hardiest and most enduring roots in China. In China’s most recent literary and artistic history, numerous storytellers and performance forms have inscribed and standardized this epic tale’s characters and events, including those that follow here.
A snake spirit named White Snake is meditating and studying on a mountain. She becomes curious about the human world and decides to explore it directly for herself. When she travels down the mountain, she meets Green Snake, another snake spirit who has a much spunkier and more aggressive personality. Both assume human form and arrive at the magnificently scenic West Lake, famous throughout China as a spiritual haven for the elite and commoners alike.
At West Lake, they meet a young man, Xu Xian, who gives them a ride across the lake on a small boat. It begins to rain, and Xu Xian offers White Snake his umbrella. Their touch evokes a karmic connection, formed in the past where an earlier incarnation of him as a boy saved an earlier incarnation of her as little white snake. White Snake decides to remain in the human world and marry Xu Xian. They set up a pharmacy business together.
Meanwhile, Fa Hai, a doctrinaire Buddhist monk, discovers White Snake’s true identity. Believing that intermarriage between an animal spirit and a human threatens the natural order, he makes numerous attempts to disrupt their romance. In one such instance, Xu Xian sees White Snake in her snake form, faints and almost dies. She embarks on a treacherous journey and battles to retrieve a restorative herb from the fairy mountain.
When Xu Xian recovers, he retreats to Fa Hai’s monastery, suspicious and ultimately terrified of White Snake’s true form. Now pregnant, White Snake and Green Snake battle to rescue Xu Xian from his fear and restore his love. After White Snake gives birth to a son, Fa Hai prevails. He ensnares her with supernatural devices and imprisons her under Leifeng Pagoda, which looms on a hill over West Lake.
Although these story elements have become standardized, variations still exist among versions that are popular today. What has remained constant, however, is the story’s fantastical appeal to diverse audiences over time. Fol-lowing its tradition of retelling and adaptation, Mary Zimmerman will add her unique theatrical style as she directs what has become a classic Chinese legend.