Photo by Michael Brosilow

Tucked into the intersection of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division in Chicago is a small theater with a great heart. The Chopin Theater at 1543 N Milwaukee Ave is the home of Lanise Antoine Shelley’s adaptation of Hans Christian’s Anderson’s The Snow Queen through January 2, 2022. 

Directed by Amber Montgomery, this first post-pandemic production from the House Theater transforms the Snow Queen to life with a modern twist. Exploring the themes from the classic tale of faith, coming of age, sacrifice, and friendship, this production moves a step beyond that. It also explores identity, love, togetherness, and acceptance of who you are. These messages are evident in the non-binary characters of Quin, changed from Gerda in the original story and the River, played by Christine, Maryland Perkins, into many entities.

This production also brings climate change into the storyline. Though we know that fixing a broken mirror is not the solution to the climate crisis to rest, it does make you wish it were that easy. In a nod to that, parts of the set and the puppets are made from recycled materials.

The intimate theater brings you face to face with the characters of the Snow Queen, who break the 4th wall to ask you, the watcher, challenging questions. Vero Maynez brings Chione, the Snow Queen, to life with earnest wonder and commanding confidence. She draws you into her world and takes you on a tour of why being the Snow Queen is the best. Vero’s performance is subtle but powerful, bringing you to tears with just a look. 

Her best friend Harpier, played and puppeteered by Thomas Tong, is never far from her side. Harpier and Thomas move as one, flying across the stage and circling the other actors as if showing them all how they are connected. Though a raven of few words, Harpier pulls at the heartstrings and shows us what the meaning of true love can be.

We meet Quin, played by Jackie Seijo, and Kai, played by Vincent Williams, in a flurry of youthful energy and playfulness. They quickly pull you in and you are playing with them in the snow, meeting the Snow Queen, and going on an adventure. The pace of their performance reminds me of hanging out with my nephews when they want to tell me everything all at once. It is overwhelming but heartwarming in a familiar way.

The story is shepherded along by Womoon, played by Molly Brennan, who is a version of Mother Earth. Molly also plays Quinn & Kai’s Grandmother, who loves them unconditionally just as Womoon loves Chione. The love is unconditional but also no-nonsense, allowing room for growth and exploration for all involved.

The story moves seamlessly from scene to scene, often being led by the arctic fox, puppeteered by Roxy Adviento, out scanning the terrain. I cannot say enough about Jesse Mooney-Bullock’s puppets. They are simple but magnificent. Chione’s polar bear is a real treat, coming from out of the audience with the help of two puppeteers. They move realistically and with the characters as part of the story and as an extension of the puppeteers. 

If you are looking for a play to see this holiday season, I recommend the Snow Queen. The show plays until Jan 2, and tickets are available here.

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