Monday, October 5, 2009

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DRAWFS (1938) comes to us from the team of Theodosia Paynter and G. A. Grant-Schaefer, whose work we've reviewed before. Paynter was a recognizable name in the genre as well, mostly in adaptations of fairy tales and popular novels such as Tom Sawyer (an adaptation to be discussed later). Designed for a mixture of middle- and high-schoolers, SNOW WHITE is remarkable for the fact that the lead doesnt really appear onstage until Act Two.

It's sometime in the Middle Ages, and Queen Winnifred has recently given birth to the Princess Snow White. But upon the princess's introduction to the world (in the form of a large doll), the harbinger of death, Frosty Fate, appears and tells the queen her hour has come. She in turn tells her husband to wait seven years, then to marry again so that Snow White will have a mother.

Unfortunately, the king's grief led him to some pretty bad judgment, if the second scene is any indication. It's seven years later, and he's married, per his dead wife's wishes — but to a vain and pompous woman named Tiger Lily, who has a magic mirror that tells her, yes, she's the fairest of them all.

Well, until the mirror meets Snow White, then all bets are off. And of course Queen Tiger Lily is just furious when the mirror tells her that she's now the runner-up in the kingdom's beauty contest. So Tiger Lily does what any sensible-yet-egocentric ruler would do: she hires a terrible woodsman (who, as he tells the audience, is just pretending to be terrible — he's actually a rather nice guy) who is to take Snow White into the forest and return... without her.

He's no sooner gone than the King shows up, wondering where his daughter's gotten to. Queen Tiger Lily tells him she was looking a little pale, so she sent Snow White into the forest for a little walk.

KING. What? Alone? Do you not know that the forest is infested with wild beasts?

QUEEN. Oh, she wasnt alone. A kind and gentle woodsman, who knows the forest well, accompanied her.

KING. What woodsman?

QUEEN. I have no idea; I never saw him before.

KING. You sent Snow White into the woods with a stranger? Your act astounds me! It could only have been prompted by the treachery of a black heart! (QUEEN laughs maliciously.)

Well, now that he's finally figured that out, he sends her to the dungeon while ordering everyone else to go into the woods and find his daughter. And on that, the first act ends.

Act Two is a few weeks later, in the house of the seven dwarfs, who are completely and utterly inept when it comes to the most basic of housekeeping skills. Still, they manage to get it together, take up their pickaxes, and head off to the mines (without whistling, I might add). Once they've left, the woodsman and Snow White appear.

(Okay, just as a note: the script is very specific that Act Two is "a few weeks later" than Act One. What have these two been doing during all that time?)

He tells her she cant go back to the castle, that she has to remain here. But to convince the Queen that she's dead, he's going to take Snow White's kerchief and stain it with blood... never realizing, of course, that now the King is gonna be all over him for letting it happen.

There's a brief intermezzo, and when we come back, she's gone. The dwarfs rattle in, surprised and suspicious at the smell of cooked food coming from the kitchen. They strike a deal with Snow White: they'll protect her if she does the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, the vacuuming, the mowing, the sewing and darning, take out the garbage, peel the potatoes... Well, this thing was written in 1938, right? Still, beggars cant be choosers, so she takes the job. But they're no sooner into their celebration of the free household help when there's a loud knock at the door: it's Queen Tiger Lily, who's somehow managed to escape the dungeon and is out looking for Snow White (I gather the woodsman's ruse didnt work for her either). The dwarfs chase her down the hill, and we take another short break.

The Queen's a determined woman; over the next couple of scenes, she tries to suffocate Snow White with magic lacings for her blouse and then brings the poison apple that sorta/kinda does the deed. The drawfs return, lay her out for burial, and sing a lament for their now-dead housekeeper...

... as a handsome prince shows up, looking for someplace to rest for the night. And they now conveniently have a bed empty. He looks at the dead girl on the table and asks if he can take the body and bury it in the garden behind his castle. They say sure, no problem, and to seal the deal, he kisses the dead girl.

And even though she's not Sleeping Beauty, Snow White wakes up anyway. This being a fairy tale, the prince immediately proposes; she accepts; and we rush into the Act Two finale to let everyone know that Snow White's alive and about to marry off really, really well.

Act Three is at the Prince's place, where the wedding rehearsal is about to begin. Snow White's distraught because the Queen intercepted the invitation meant for the King, but when Tiger Lily shows up to make one more attempt at murdering Snow White, the drawfs grab her up and put her feet in a pair of red-hot metal dancing shoes, then send her out the door. But the King, having found the invitation in his wife's wastebasket, does arrive, and it's decided to move things on to a real wedding. And so with much singing and dancing and happiness towards vertically-challenged protectors, SNOW WHITE ends.

Now, not unsurprisingly, there's a lot of Disney-style flavour in this adaptation: talking animals and wee fee folks dress out the cast, even if the story has plot holes the size of small moons circling Jupiter — not the least of which is what to make of the relationship between the king and Tiger Lily. Remember, he sent her to the dungeon... but she apparently got out to wreak havoc. Even though he knows (or rather believes) the she sent his daughter to her death, he keeps her around — with a royal hairdresser no less.

Well, no one ever said that operetta royalty was especially bright.

Still, it appears Tiger Lily, with her vaguely Oriental-sounding name, can run circles around everyone in the kingdom, since she seems to be about the only one who can track Snow White to the dwarfs' cottage: the woodsman wouldnt have had enough time to get back and tell her anything, so I gather it must be chalked up to her mysterious Oriental powers... and maybe the mirror.

In the directing notes, it's written that the pacing of this should be "brisk", which I gather is how you plow through so the audience doesnt notice all the errors and omissions. Who knows, perhaps Paynter expected them to come in with a still firm memory of the Disney film, which would allow her to slack off a bit. Still, from a plotting point of view, a lot of this borders on the unforgivable, which makes me suspicious of what to expect from TOM SAWYER.

Side note: my copy of SNOW WHITE was previously owned by "Barry", who played the part of Nutty the Squirrel. Tiger Lily was played by "Norma Jeane": please note the odd spelling of the second name. I've only seen that once before, from a certain sex-pot actress who would have been 11 when this production was mounted. There's nothing, of course, definitive in thinking that this was perhaps Marilyn Monroe's first acting gig, but it's fun to think about.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was Tiger Lily in 5th grade ('63-64 school year)!!! Thank you so much for posting - I've got to find a copy!

Anonymous said...

I was Snow White! I still remember the song in the woods: "Banished I am and alone, far from friends am I...In this forest deep and dense, I will surely pine and die...I will surely pine and die!"