Once again, Classika Theatre has come to the rescue of parents who want to get their kids away from the blatant commercialism and relentless emphasis on material acquisition during the ever-extending and bloated holiday season. In fact, this long weekend is a good time to explore the theater's latest offering in its Family Series, "The Snow Queen," and escape, for a time, the anxiety of finding yet another new way of serving turkey to the young 'uns.
This is Classika's adaptation of Evgeny Shwartz's story, which was based on a 150-year-old fairy tale from Hans Christian Andersen. The fable centers on a girl's treacherous journey through enchanted lands as she seeks to rescue her kidnapped brother. The boy, Kay, has been put under a spell and stolen away from his grandmother and sister by the evil Snow Queen. Kay's sister, Gerda, travels to the Snow Queen's palace to snap him out of his spell and return him home. She encounters characters both friendly and fearsome along the way.
Directed by Inna Shapiro, "The Snow Queen" has all the elements Classika's young audiences have come to expect: colorful sets, sparkling costumes and evocative music, in this case an original score composed by Timur Abashidze.
Shapiro says her adaptation of the story makes it relevant to modern children and teaches a lesson about the dangers of trusting strangers.
"In addition to understanding how important it is to love and help one another, I also want our young people to realize that evil is deceptive -- that bad people do not necessarily look mean and evil," she writes. "Quite the opposite. Often, they look like everybody else, or even nicer and kinder than other strangers."
The cast of eight contains familiar faces from Classika's informal acting company, first and foremost among them the rubbery countenance of Jason Linkins, who plays a menacing crony of the Snow Queen. Linkins, who sometimes seems to have stepped out of a cartoon, is a marvelously comic villain who can create a few carefully calibrated chills while simultaneously showing he is just a blustering bully a kid can outwit and defeat.
Caroline Kenney puts her somewhat ethereal persona to good use as the malevolent but deceivingly serene and regal queen. She may have a heart of ice and possess great powers, but she is also deathly afraid of a cup of hot tea.
Other Classika regulars include Josef Villanasco, displaying his versatility in a variety of roles, and Hanna Bondarewska as several characters, most effectively portraying the humble grandmother who has lost her grandson.
As young Gerda, Heidi Volf is convincing, showing depths of both vulnerability and steely determination and more than standing her ground with the adults in the cast. Her dynamic performance usually keeps the attention of her young audience focused.
Rachel Speicher is a vivacious princess, while Joe Baker and Maxwell Hessman are bland but adequate in the roles of Kay and a storyteller, respectively. The story gets a bit complicated for young children to follow, and it could benefit from some careful editing to shorten a few scenes that go on too long and allow the energy level on the stage to slump. Fortunately, each time the telltale signs of squirming and whispering start to break out, the action picks up and the children again become rapt and wide-eyed.
Ksenya Litvak's vibrant set design centers on a large, open "book" upon the pages of which the various scenic backgrounds are suggested, reminding one and all of the literary foundations of the story.
"The Snow Queen" is recommended for children ages 6 and older. It is playing in repertoire with Classika's Green Parrot Puppet Theatre's production of "The Nutcracker," which is recommended for children ages 4 and older.
"The Snow Queen" runs through Jan. 12 at Classika Theatre in the Village at Shirlington, 4041 S. 28th St., Arlington. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For tickets or information, call 703-824-6200.