UH's The Snow Queen Needs More Reindeer
Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography Sarah Ornelas as the title character in Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen is all villain
This fable by Hans Christian Anderson had delighted children, and adults as well, since its publication in 1844. It has appeared in many forms: in films (anime, animated, live, and a combination of both), in pantos, in plays, in musicals, in operas, in ballet and in modern dance. Its appeal is timeless.
The storyline of The Snow Queen is one of Anderson's longest, with seven segments, basically a tale of a boy, Cei, and a girl, Gerda, living in adjacent buildings who fall in love. The boy has the bad luck to be infected with a sliver of an evil mirror, which compels him to see people and things as ugly rather than beautiful. He is lured to the palace of the Snow Queen, and imprisoned there, while Gerda encounters a series of adventures as she seeks to find him.
Jacob Perkel plays Cei, and is excellent in capturing the vitality and charm of youth, and even his infected insolence is amusing -- unfortunately, he is soon imprisoned and disappears for most of the performance. Paige Wharton plays Gerda, the largest role, and is attractive but fails to convey the depth of the love for Cei that drives her to a dangerous odyssey. The Snow Queen is potrayed by Sarah Ornelas, who plays her as a villainess without grace or charm.
The director, Jon L. Egging, must bear the responsibility for this interpretation, as the fable deals with the allure of selfish, self-centered evil, and a Snow Queen without an aura of attractiveness undermines the message. The adaptation is by Charles Way and the dramaturg is Pamela Guinn, so this may be a shared responsibility.
The scenes are necessarily episodic, and we constantly meet new characters, providing an opportunity for vivid characterizations. Most successful here is an engaging reindeer (yes, reindeer do talk) with an amusing accent and a vivacious appeal.
As a robber girl, Ronden Perrin finds the energy and vitality to compel interest, as does Celestina Billington as the robber mother. Their scene calls for a dance-off between the mother and Gerda, with Gerda being a cannibal's lunch if she loses - surely a basis for high-velocity stagecraft, but presented here in a low-key, lackluster manner. As Princess Fredrica, Precious Merenu is attractive and poised.
The set by Denton Davies functions successfully in a variety of ways to accommodate scene changes, but never rises to the level of shimmering magic. The large cast provides a way for more college-level students to get experience on stage, but the experience should be a motivating force of power and intensity; to be cast in a so-so production may not be to anyone's advantage. It's essential that we care deeply and become involved in Gerda's quest, and this we simply don't do - instead we follow the narrative as observers - maybe we needed more reindeer, so enjoyable a characterization that it spoiled us, and made us yearn for the same wit and charm from the other characters.
An ageless and much-loved fable is presented again, and has some exciting characterizations and some amusing moments, but lacks the driving pace to make it thoroughly enjoyable for adults as well as children.
The Snow Queen continues with a school performance on December 7 at 10 a.m. and a general public performance on December 8 at 2 p.m., at the University of Houston's Wortham Theatre, 133 Wortham. For information or ticketing, call 713-743- 2929.