March 3, 2017, I had an exclusive invite from Center Stage to cover their theatrical release of The White Snake. The show was approximately 2 hours and 11 minutes long and I was able to finagle a cookie and a drink during the 15 minute intermission. Unfortunately, Center Stage’s restaurant vendor Flavor was not open during the time but I still had a remarkable time.
The last time I went to Center Stage was when I was 19 years old and the venue, if compared to today’s renovation, was dwarfed in size. The 28 million for the renovation project does speak volumes, with its’ grand, illustrious marquee. The lobby is much more spacious, the box office was revamped, and there are all sorts of literary quotes just floating about the wall by the Pearlstone Theater. On two opposite ends of the theater are a wine bar and a coffee bar, but the mini hike is worth it. Speaking of a mini hike, driving to Center Stage was easy.
There was a parking garage just a block from the venue which was only $5 for the show. The drive was decent since the parking garage was nearby and there wasn’t much traffic that day.
For a matinee theater show, I decided to do my hair a bit differently by wearing two braids crossed in the back. I wore my White House Black Market gray and white leopard print work blazer with a champagne pink ruffled Anne Taylor shirt with white pants. For my birthday that year, one of my close friends gave me a Sailor Moon-inspired Luna head shaped purse. Surprisingly enough, this purse pairs well with my ensemble.
I may have been a little overdressed for this opening but the young college student in me was so excited to be back! I had so many fond memories of Center Stage in my college heyday that I wanted to relive it in my current state as an older millenial. As soon as I walked in, I was given an amazing swag bag full of papers about Center Stage, information on upcoming productions, and the bag, itself, I have been using for work.
The seats inside the head theater were fancy, soft, and princess like. I love the color red and those plush seats were heavenly. A definite upgrade from what I remembered back in the day.
“The White Snake” was a production by Mary Zimmerman and directed by Natsu Onoda Power. Zimmerman adeptly fused Western and Eastern perspectives in this retelling of the story with music, set designs, imagery, and costumes. This adaptation of this old, Chinese tale, was vibrantly displayed with colorful settings, creative snake costumes, and an almost surreal sequence change that could be oft-times had a “Disney” magic to it.
Power, an associate professor of Theater from Georgetown University, worked the story of friendship, love, and acceptance into a relatable piece. The underpinnings of the story is to recognize that although we all come from different walks of life, it’s good to accept the person as whole.
The show was strongly directed and several actors broke out and shined a light with their witty quips, light steps, and emotive reactions. The White Snake played by Aime Donna Kelly delivered a strong performance that vacillated between enigmatic and forlorn when her lover, the pharmacist’s assistant, Xu Xian, played by Joe Ngo, discovers the truth behind her true species. Ngo had a multi-dimensional performance that shifted from silly, to concerned, to determined.
My favorite character was the sassy Green Snake played by Eileen Rivera. Her tenacity, verve, and fun energy enthralled the crowd. She had a literal snake like charm whenever she made a one-liner.
Ensemble members such as Caitlin Cisco, Samy el-Noury, Jason Kao Hwang, Damian Thompson, Yukio Tsuji, and Joshua Ziemann brought out a moving magic from scene to scene.
The play was also easy to get into. The narrative just sucks you in from the beginning. Power provides strong lines for the cast and it’s quite noticeable when you notice the audience’s visceral reactions.
I can easily see this play heralding Baltimore’s top ten for best theater shows in 2017. The acting, directing, lush scenery, and the script blended East Asian culture with Western humor, plausibility, and culture.
Although this play is currently not in production: Scroll below for upcoming shows at Center Stage. Definitely consider donating to this great theater right here!
About Center Stage
Center Stage is the state theater of Maryland, and Baltimore‘s largest professional producing theater. Center Stage began in a converted gymnasium in 1963 as a full arena theatre that seated 240 people.Center Stage houses two performing spaces, the 541-seat Pearlstone and the smaller Head Theater, both in its home in the Mount Vernon Cultural District of Baltimore.
Upcoming Center Stage Plays (February-March 2018)
1.) Skeleton Crew (February 2018)
From the playwright of Detroit ’67, Skeleton Crew (the third play in Dominique Morisseau’s acclaimed Detroit trilogy) tells the story of four workers at the last exporting auto plant in Detroit struggling to survive as their way of life disappears. Set around 2008, this play vividly portrays the modern struggle in a changing America, and reveals the real people on the factory line. This skeleton crew—the bare minimum number of staff needed to function—is made up of people who keep the vital operations of the plant running in the face of obstacles, rumors, and, eventually, the confirmation of their worst fears. Loyalties are tested and boundaries are crossed as this vibrant team of loyal and proud workers navigate an uncertain future. Purchase tickets here
2.) Animal Farm (March 2018)
One day on Manor Farm, shortly before his death, an old boar named Major told the other animals about his dream. United by the realization that all animals have a common enemy—man—the animals revolted against the tyranny of forced work. They fought and gained their freedom and established a system of thought, Animalism, based on the wise words of the Major. All animals are comrades. All animals are equal. But as months and years pass, the exalted words of the Major become distorted, and the citizens of Animal Farm come to see that some animals are more equal than others. Purchase tickets here.
3.) Mobile Unite Twelfth Night (March 2018)
Mobile Unit, an exciting new initiative of Baltimore Center Stage, that breaks down the walls of conventional theater spaces by taking high-quality theater to economically, culturally and geographically diverse communities across the Baltimore area, including homeless, elderly, incarcerated. The project launched in spring 2017 following a successful pilot project in 2016. Purchase tickets here.