"WHITE SNAKE" PROVES LOVE WAS NEVER EASY
photo by Tim Fuller

From left, Ryan Parker Knox as Xu Xian, Patty Gallagher as the White Snake and Holly Griffith as the Green Snake.

There is magic of the mind as well as the art in Rogue Theatre's silken fantasy production of “The White Snake,” Mary Zimmerman's contemporary stage adaption of an ancient Chinese tale.

Most obligingly, Zimmerman enriches the myth by including a few little breaks in which a narrator describes variations the story has acquired over the centuries. So cleverly does it unfold, every person in the audience could come away with a bit different insight from this evening of enchanted theater.

A quick spin through the internet reveals that at different times in history, the story has had different heroes. Several centuries ago the Buddhist monk Fa Hai was cheered for his determination to honor his faith and expose the dishonesty of White Snake.

Then there was the later Romantic Period when the idealistic White Snake wanted to become a human, and fell in love with Xu Xian, a reincarnation of the man whose Buddhist kindness made him refuse to kill a small snake centuries earlier – that snake's spirit would evolve to become White Snake.

A more modern interpretation with strong female roles for White Snake and her sidekick the feisty Green Snake fits nicely in today's gender power structure.

In addition, a very lively performance by Holly Griffith as Green Snake makes her rebellious counterculture spirit feel like the activist difference maker as cosmic forces collide to complicate the lives of White Snake (Patty Gallagher), Green Snake, Xu Xian (Ryan Parker Knox) and Fa Hai (David Weynand).

None of this is difficult to follow. An ensemble of seven players take turns playing minor characters and being a kind of Greek chorus. They also add considerable beauty to the production by wafting large pieces of silk symbolizing various forces, carrying bright paper lanterns on slender poles, spinning various parasols and the like.

There are a few songs to sing, as well, and a trio of musicians at the foot of the stage provides atmospheric music throughout.

The power of love, the importance of forgiveness and the necessity of acceptance are all in there, too. Just like in real life, all four characters have their good and bad points. Sometimes the bad points might seem to outweigh the good points, but then the story shifts and everything changes.

For those keeping score in the audience, a measure of love, forgiveness and acceptance will be required.

“The White Snake” runs through Jan. 29, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, plus 2 p.m. Saturday matinees Jan. 21 and 28. All performances at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd.

Tickets are $35; student rush 15 minutes before curtain. For details and tickets, 551-2053 or theroguetheatre.org










BIG FUN "BUYER & CELLAR" TO START THE YEAR BRIGHT
photo by Ryan Fagan

Alex More (Keith Wick) finds out his dream job is more than a dream.

Wow! Talk about getting the new year off to a fast start. Keith Wick at Live Theatre Workshop has set the bar quite high with his one-hander that probes the nature of fame and the inevitability of loneliness in the thoughtful comedy “Buyer & Cellar” by Jonathon Tolins.

Working alone on, basically, a bare stage for 100 minutes telling one long story while describing about a dozen distinct characters, including Barbra Streisand, Wick becomes a veritable chameleon of personalities with acting skills.

Credit the show's appealing jauntiness and nimble leap among the story's characters to the work of director Sabian Trout.

Having no set changes, costume changes, props or lighting effects he brings the most fantastical story to life, wearing nothing but an understated jogging outfit and the whitest running shoes imaginable.

If the plot below doesn't sound interesting, please don't let that deter you from buying a ticket. The insight and the laughter are worth the effort.

Wick plays the mostly unemployed but ever optimistic Los Angeles actor Alex More. He couldn't get a toe hold in the New York off-Broadway scene, so he moved to the other coast – where he did get a job, at Disneyland.

The show opens without any theatrical nuance whatsoever, just More telling the audience about the New England-style barn with windmill that graces Streisand's Malibu estate. In the vast basement of this sprawling barn Streisand has built a series of quaint shops as if they are facing onto a quaint street. Each shop contains in turn Streisand's personal doll collection, her costumes, a movie theater that only shows her movies and so on.

Her basement is basically a mini-mall of everything Barbra. All the items are presented as if they are for sale, but they aren't. The only one admitted inside is Barbra herself.

Apparently all of this is true, and there is an elaborate coffee table book written and photographed by Streisand – “My Passion for Design” – to prove it.

The story arc, which is completely fictitious, begins with Alex More answering an ad to be in charge of this basement mall. He thinks it might be like performance art, or something.

What follows is an amusingly frothy commentary that gets many of its jokes from the gay community's fascination with Barbara, pokes at movie industry insiders, show biz eccentricities and also More's own problems with his jealous boyfriend Barry that we never see.

But the heart of “Buyer & Cellar” is its oblique references to the nature of fame, the pressure to stay famous and the feeling that no one is really on your side and everyone is actually hoping you fail.

It is easy enough to believe that Barbra Streisand has it made, wants for nothing. But what if she felt like her house of wealth was a house of cards that could collapse at any minute if she didn't stay intensely vigilant over tiny detail that affect her life.

By the time Wick takes his curtain call and deserved standing ovation, you will feeling differently about your own life, as well.

"Buyer & Cellar" runs through Feb. 11 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.

Tickets are $15 Thursdays, $20 all other days. Discounts available. For details and reservations, 327-4242 or visit livetheatreworkshop.org