The White Snake (2012)

The White Snake

  • February 18 - July 8, 2012
  • Adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman | Based on the ancient Chinese fable
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.

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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.

Artistic Team

Mary Zimmerman
Scenic Designer
Daniel Ostling
Costume Designer
Mara Blumenfeld
Lighting Designer
T.J. Gerckens
Original Music/Sound Design
Andre J. Pluess
Voice and Text Director
Rebecca Clark Carey


Plucked strings, percussion

Cast List

White Snake/Ensemble
Amy Kim Waschke*
Xu Xian/Ensemble
Christopher Livingston*
Green Snake/Ensemble
Tanya Thai McBride**
Fa Hai Ensemble
Jack Willis*
Cristofer Jean*
Lisa Tejero*
Emily Sophia Knapp*
Gina Daniels*
Richard Howard*
Vin Kridakorn
* Member of Actors' Equity Association (AEA)
**AEA Professional Theatre Intern
  • Mary Zimmerman

    Writing Process

    Director Mary Zimmerman talks about her unique writing process.

  • The White Snake

    Sneak Peek at The White Snake

    Get a sneak peek of The White Snake, a world premiere based on the classic Chinese fable, adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman, playing February 18 - July 8, 2012.

  • Mary Zimmerman

    Early Thoughts On Production

    Director Mary Zimmerman shares her early thoughts on the production.

  • Mary Zimmerman

    Know Before You Go: The White Snake

    Insights on The White Snake from the adapter and director.

  • Mary Zimmerman

    The Story

    Director Mary Zimmerman discusses the story of The White Snake.

  • The White Snake

    Artist Profile: James N. Clark

    OSF Properties Manager and Prop Master James N. Clark talks about some of the prop needs for The White Snake, and some of the challenges the prop crew faces.

  • Daily Tidings logo

    Ashland Daily Tidings

    “The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's The White Snake,' which opened Saturday, is a sophisticated fairy tale, complete with monsters, puppets, a villain, ennobling tasks and lots and lots of sly humor…Beginning with its use of amazingly effective snake puppets, "The White Snake" seduces the audience into the suspension of disbelief. As the play's action is narrated by characters who appear, disappear and reappear, the story flows and the disparate story elements all manage to fit together perfectly.”

  • Napa Valley Register logo

    Napa Valley Register

    “Told with puppets and great clouds of silk that become mountains, lakes and storms, this work is captivating from the moment it opens with a white paper snake poring over scrolls to its mysterious conclusion. It’s sheer theatrical magic. Sublime, stunning and spectacular, this is the play to take your kids to and to thoroughly enjoy yourself.”

  • Mail Tribune logo

    Mail Tribune

    “One of the innovations Artistic Director Bill Rauch brought to OSF several years ago was a practice of mounting one production each year of a play from outside the Western Canon. 'The White Snake' joins a lineage that includes the Japanese 'Throne of Blood,' the Nigerian 'Death and the King's Horseman' and India's 'The Clay Cart.' That is a noble experiment. But it is difficult to think of a play of any sort that inspired in an opening night audience the kind of gaping, almost childlike delight inspired by The White Snake.