Hans Christian Andersen wrote classic fairy tales, and his own life sometimes approached the peaks and valleys of his inventions: The gawky, homely son of an impoverished cobbler and washerwoman, baby Andersen slept in a crib constructed from the leftovers of a nobleman's funeral bier. Ridiculed for his frequent flights of fantasy, he nevertheless overcame his origins and ended up rich and famous, a welcome guest of royalty, a beloved storyteller whose tales are as appealing today as they were a century ago.
From what Andersen once described as "the fairy tale that is my life," professional actor Terence Aselford and David and Donna Wisniewski of the Clarion Puppet Theatre have created "An Evening With Hans Christian Andersen," which will be presented at the McLean Community Center on Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.
"We don't recommend it for extremely young children," says Aselford, a featured member of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival for the last three years. "It's not going to horrify them, but it may tax their attention span a little. We show what parts of Andersen's life are reflected in his tales so that we can see both sides of him. Audiences are fascinated by the contrast between the tales and the life behind them."
For instance, the death of Andersen's father inspired "The Steadfast Tin Soldier"; his infatuation for Jenny Lind turned into "The Emperor's Nightingale," while her rejection of him evolved into "The Little Mermaid." Andersen's own career was retold as "The Ugly Duckling."
Aselford developed the script from Andersen's autobiography over a period of three years with the Wisniewskis, whose "shadow theater" is an integral part of the performance. "The shadow illusions on the screen reflect or illustrate some of the tales and also illuminate certain parts of Andersen's life," Aselford explains. The technique, originated by the Chinese many centuries ago, has been championed here in recent years by the Wisniewskis.