Bless The Weather

Photo credit: Maria Baranova
The Snow Queen
Written by Matt Opatrny
Directed by Jessica Burr
Presented by Blessed Unrest at New Ohio Theatre, NYC
December 31, 2017-January 14, 2018

It seems fitting that The Snow Queen opened against the backdrop of New York's most frigid New Year's Eve in decades. Luckily, it deserves a very warm reception. Developed with the aid of a residency at the New Victory Theater and the advice of a class of fourth-graders, The Snow Queen entertainingly adapts Hans Christian Andersen's 19th-century tale, to which it adheres fairly closely in its major events while refocusing a few of its key elements, including the symbolic subtext of its central characters' journeys. The final product is a delightful balance of comedy, adventure, and just a tinge of melancholy.

The protagonists are two children, Gerda (Nancy McArthur) and Kay (Todd Grace), the depth of whose friendship is represented by the way that even their clothing and movements echo one another. Gerda speaks the languages of birds and flowers, while Kay, who lives with his Nana (Celli Pitt), views the world as composed of patterns and codes, just waiting to be cracked—in order, presumably, to reveal an order that life often fails to provide. Part of that disorder is the death in childbirth of Kay's mother (the story of how he was named nicely captures the poetry of fairy tales), and when he disappears one winter with the titular Snow Queen (Tatyana Kot), it is hard not to see her as an icy maternal substitute. Gerda, refusing to believe that Kay is dead, eventually sets off on a picaresque odyssey to find and rescue her dearest friend. Along the way, while Kay remains a constant presence behind filmy frozen curtains, she encounters an array of characters both dangerous and helpful, including a pair of crows (Rich Brown and Celli Pitt), a group of bandits (Rich Brown, Tatyana Kot, Zach Libresco, and Joshua Wynter), an intellectual princess (Tatyana Kot), and Ba (Rich Brown and Joshua Wynter), a comically confident reindeer who becomes an important companion in her travels. Ultimately, however, Gerda must leave behind even Ba and press forward on her own if she wishes to free her friend.

In addition to providing a strong, determined, resourceful heroine, Gerda's coming into her own in this way gives expression to the movement out of childhood that marks so many fairy tales. In The Snow Queen, that maturation is woven into an allegory about loss, grief, and the frightening aspects of love, whether for a friend, family member, or sapiosexual princess. Indeed, the passage of time weighs lightly but perceptibly on the ending in a way that younger audience members may overlook but that will add a certain bittersweetness for those aware that love and loss are inevitably twinned.

Mostly, though, The Snow Queen is a lot of fun: energetic and funny, family friendly but not sentimental, with eye-catchingly creative costuming and some great movement work. Nancy McArthur captures Gerda's resourcefulness and loyalty, ably playing a child on the cusp of adolescence-to-adulthood without trivializing the character or the stakes. She and Todd Grace effectively ground Gerda and Kay's relationship, and the rest of the cast memorably populates the landscape of Gerda's quest. The 7 ½ year-old who accompanied us summed up her own expert opinion with a firm thumbs up (she also revealed that her favorite character was Gerda -- strong female leads for the win!! -- with Ba missing out on that honor for being "too funny"). The Snow Queen will melt even the most frozen of hearts this cold winter season.- Leah Richards and John Ziegler