Ghent Playhouse / Snow White: House of Dwarfs
THIS SNOW WHITE (nee Hillary) in the 2015 Pantoloons’ production frequently walks around carrying a bird, which she doesn’t hesitate to give someone. Don’t get me wrong. As written by Cathy Lee-Visscher and played by Sam Reilly at the Ghent Playhouse, Snow is an attractive, gentle soul unlikely to make very many vulgar gestures or snuff out any Americans at Benghazi. Her most aggressive moment comes as she enters the dwarfs’ cottage with a vigorous, Liz Taylor/Virginia Woolf “What a dump!”
As you probably know, actor Reilly is a man, and cross-dressing is a staple of Pantoloon productions. Of course, there is cross-dressing and cross-dressing. There is the kind that assumes any man in women’s clothes is inherently giggle-making, sexually titillating and hilarious. (That kind makes me yawn.) Sometimes the cross-dressing is nasty and misogynistic, stripping the “kind” from womankind. (That sort has a bad smell.) Sometimes it’s pseudo-cuddly. Fortunately, women impersonating men seem to be much more at ease with the device.
Lee-Visscher does something a bit different with the gender stuff. She can’t help herself. She is a life-affirmer type. Even her political swipes are friendly. (“The woods are dangerous! Deep in the woods are… conservatives!” To the abundant candidate: “Is that a Twinkie in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?” Reply, chewing: “Sometimes a Twinkie is just a Twinkie.”)
Among her dwarfs are the above-mentioned Christie (a well-padded Matthew Coviello), a sleepy Bush (Sally McCarthy), a doctor (Michael Meier), a “trumpy” Trump (played by Paul Murphy–not just with hair but with trumpy mouth and trumpy diction).
Tunes are well-chosen (played on electronic piano by Paul Leyden/musical director/Bernie Sanders). They are all quality. Lyrics, which have been created communally by the Pantaloons, are sometimes clever and always serviceable. Leyden’s arms waving in Bernie unison are right on, though a bit more Brooklyn in the talk might be fun. Bernie himself could benefit from a hunk of Leyden’s keen baritone.
One may wonder, however, why the musical director left McCarthy/Bush stranded in an unsingable key for her/his number. These days transpositions are not too hard to come by. The actress has voice, and it would be nice to hear it where it lives rather than squeaking high and leaping down the octave in search of the accompaniment.
“Get your ax in here!” demands Carly, the wicked queen, played with creative laughter by Mark Schane-Lydon. The ax-bearing (he doesn’t really) Woodsman is cross-dressed by Nellie Rustick. In that small role and as Prince William (“Call me Bill”), Rustick is compelling. Her stage-authority is effortless, and the more she understates, the more captivated we become.
The set is a pleasant, functional three-part affair (cottage, forest, palace) in a familiar children’s book style. Costumes are convincing, though one might wish for a better fit on the Snow/Hillary pants suit.
Ultimately, what you shouldn’t miss is the different “different” that rolls intriguingly out of Reilly’s unconscious onto the stage. It is impossible not to attend to it. It’s probably not acting technique; it’s some other way of being that doesn’t get censored by the fact that a lot of people in an audience are looking at it. Or maybe that is acting technique. He usually does it no matter what clothes or gender he is wearing.
I’m not sure about Hillary, but Sam Reilly is elected.
Reserve tickets at 518 392-6264.