For its 2017/2018 season, Arena Stage has focused on producing “Power Plays,” performances that are focused on each decade of American history. With its final show of the season and world-premiere of, Snow Child, Executive Producer, Edgar Dobie says that this musical stands in contrast to the previous plays because it focuses on the, “… interior experience of a couple shaping their own history as they move to Alaska seeking adventure, new frontiers, and a fresh start.”
Transforming a book that combines magical realism with the harsh realities of miscarriage, a strained marriage, and the Alaskan frontier into a theatrical performance, let alone a musical, is a difficult feat to accomplish. However, Molly Smith (Arena Stage) and Art Rotch (Perseverance Theatre) executed this feat marvelously.
The creation of intimacy and authenticity between the stage and audience begins with the music and physical construction of the stage and its displays. Sounds of the Alaskan wilderness and an orchestra, composed of the fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and other percussion instruments, greet audience members upon entering the theatre.
They also set the mood that complements the stage, which is almost like an active character in itself. The stage reflects the internal states of the characters: from the depression faced by Mabel (Christiane Noll) as she endures her first Alaskan winter, on the precipice of falling into cracked ice, to the following autumn where the glow of the bonfire and backdrop of the sun setting on the mountains frames a jollier mood of the characters as they’ve come to terms with the realities of living on the Alaskan frontier, and their own emotional dilemmas.
“Who says, ‘Move to Alaska!’ and actually does?” sang Jack (Matt Bogart) alongside his wife, Mabel (Christiane Noll). This question plays into the theme of humans versus nature. Moving to Alaska was a means for them to escape the pain of their miscarriage back in Pennsylvania, but the isolation and brutality of rural Alaska force them to reflect on this painful memory and confront more psychological burdens. The Snow Child, Faina (Fina Strazza) in a sense could be a manifestation of a psychological trauma, and a tool to heal, in the theme of human versus nature. At the beginning of the musical Mabel sings about being alone, until she hears Faina singing in the distance. From then on she is fascinated with finding the Snow Child, who is a manifestation of the Alaskan wilderness itself, and her fox (puppeteered by Dorothy James). Esther (Natalie Toro) believes that Faina is a figment of Mabel’s imagination, but as the play continues the lines between the myth and reality of Faina becomes even more blurred.
Gender roles and its manifestations in the lives of the characters isn’t obvious, but pivotal, in the development of the story. Jack attempts to fulfill what he defines as his role as a man, the breadwinner. On the Alaskan frontier, however, this means that he feels the need to farm and attempt to hunt. As Garrett (Alex Alferov) point out, it’s pivotal for a man in Alaska to hunt for his family. Mabel, on the other hand, at the beginning is the manifestation of the stereotype of femininity: she is perceived as being too weak physically and emotionally to survive in Alaska. However, a turn of events forces Jack and Mabel to shed their ascribed gender roles to survive, and save their marriage.
Guided by music, set design, and an added bonus of animals brought to life by puppeteers, Snow Child captures the essence of Eowyn Ivey’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel with its sharp focus on character development and an intimate look at marriage at the precipice of disaster set against the Alaskan landscape
Snow Child is playing at Arena Stage from April 26 to May 20, with special post-show conversations occurring after the noon performances on May 2, May 8, and May 9; May 3 following the 8:00 pm showing; and May 8 following the 7:30 production.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
MARY MARSTON is a recent graduate of American University who is interested in the intersection of social justice and the arts and is pursuing a legal career.