St. Lou Fringe Review: SNOW WHITE by ERA

I have to admit, I’m not quite sure what SNOW WHITE was about. Almost certainly, it was not the story you’re thinking of.

In this adaptation — which incorporates academic theory on performance, capitalism, alienation, and democracy; a somewhat murky parody of Donald Trump; a monologue on reparations for white supremacy and the enslavement of Black people; and a sexualized reading of an online recipe for fruit salad and its comments— Snow White is a polyamorous housewife and philosopher of sorts, frequently deadpanning commentary and insights to the audience.

Of course, I might as well have expected this.

In lieu of a playbill, audience members received a letter from Jane, the production’s stand in for a wicked stepmother; a set of instructions recommending we don’t get too concerned about the plot and that we choose caffeine or marijuana over alcohol or cocaine as our substance of choice during the show; and an audience survey which asked questions like “Would you like a war? Yes or no” and “Do you feel that the Actors Equity Association has been sufficiently vigorous in representing actors before the Congress in matters pertaining to anything? Yes or no.”

I am sure that this show was good. I am not sure whether or not I liked it.

There were people and moments that shined brightly.

photo by the lovely and talented Meredith LaBounty

The vast majority of the play was underscored by a piano, and the several scenes that involved stylized dancing, a little reminiscent of the 1920s, were truly lovely; Maggie Conroy, who played Jane, and Julia Crump, who played Snow White, seemed particularly at home in the dance scenes and drew my eye constantly with the energy and presence of their movement.

Reginald Pierre, who played Kevin, one of the more heavily featured of the seven men with whom Snow White lived (and possibly slept?), was a standout throughout the show, expertly slipping in and out of dialects and delivering beautifully an excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

And there were constant one-liners I found either profound or funny enough to write down. Snow White describes her sense of alienation as an over-large, heavy gray electric blanket that will not turn on and she gets right to the point of her existentially unsatisfying life with the seven men when she announces “I have not been able to imagine anything better.” At one point, one of Snow White’s men shouts “The world is full of cunts!”

The play’s aesthetics, like everything it involved, were eclectic; everything onstage seemed to have been purchased at IKEA and painted red or black except for the typewriter, bathtub, and cocktail cart which appeared frequently.

At one point a character rolls around on the ground, high from huffing bug spray. Another gives an explanation of the colors black and white as a metaphor for moral purity while scribbling on a naked Ken doll with a Sharpie.

Jane, who didn’t seem to actually even know Snow White before she attempted to poison her, was haunted by a woman with a heavy put-on German accent that evoked, somehow, both the Emcee from Cabaret and Sigmund Freud. We later learn that this woman is dead and Snow White’s mother. Prince Charming, here known as Paul, blows soap bubbles, joins a monastery in Las Vegas, and becomes obsessed with Snow White after his voyeuristic tendencies lead him to build a system of mirrors and trained dogs that allow him to watch her constantly.

SNOW WHITE was about so much, by the end it felt like it was maybe about nothing. At the loose plot’s climax, Jane’s poison cocktail is grabbed away from Snow White by Paul who is concerned it is too exciting for her and passes out on her bed quickly after starting to drink it. The show closed with a few comments about Snow White’s revirginization and a song that I couldn’t quite catch the lyrics to because the company — who performed without microphones — were drowned out by the pianist who was, confusingly, sometimes referred to as the Secretary of State; it was fun and something about Emily Dickinson.

I think I recommend this show. I am even more unsure whether I liked it than I was before writing this review, but it was absolutely an experience worth having and felt quintessential to the spirit of a fringe festival — weird and well made and maybe a little too artsy for me, which takes a lot.

SNOW WHITE, created by ERA, is presented as part of 2017 St Lou Fringe Festival. Performances take place August 18, 24, 26 at 7:30 pm and August 19 at 2:00 pm at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis, MO 63108.

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