Derek Villanueva photo Director Mike Lion addresses the gathered cast during a recent rehearsal of “The Snow Queen,” a joint production by the Lesser-Known Players and Dacha, a Seattle-based immersive theater group, at Rolling Bay Hall.

From Russia with style:Lesser-Known players host immersive theater special

The chosen moniker of the Lesser-Known Players, Bainbridge Island’s premiere underground performing arts collective, is getting less accurate.

The group, which specializes in short runs of theatrical works at Rolling Bay Hall, has snagged some early attention from regional theater fans, and is already returning for their third production fast on the heels of last month’s “The Vandal,” in a partnership production with the newly formed Seattle theater company Dacha.

The joint show is an immersive, avant-garde take on a freshly translated Russian version of a classic: “The Snow Queen.”

“We’re very excited to be bringing immersive theater to Bainbridge Island,” said Lesser-Known Players spokeswoman Jennifer Hodges. “The show will be the English-language premiere of a Russian play by Evgeny Schwartz, translated from the original by the director, Mike Lion, and Ethan Wilcox.”

The production will run from Thursday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 11 at Rolling Bay Hall, and features many local actors, including Hodges, Bob Downing, Nathan Whitehouse, Ali Budge, Nobelle Wilkinson Bennett, Garrett Guse, Michael Loudon and others.

Most people probably know the story of “The Snow Queen” from the Hans Christian Andersen tale.

Just like in the original, in the Schwartz version young Gerda and Kay live in a small attic apartment with their grandmother, and when the Snow Queen bewitches Kay and takes him away to the land of the icecaps Gerda must set out on an adventure to save her brother.

The Dacha/Lesser-Known Players production is the English premiere of this new translation of the beloved Russian playwright’s adaptation of the Andersen classic. This version of the story stays true to the danger and excitement of the original, Lion said, while adding some uniquely Russian flavor and dark humor.

“[Schwartz] is really not translated much into English,” he said. “But in Russia he’s very popular.

“He was writing during the Communist era and doing a lot of children’s theater at a time when writers were heavily censored,” Lion explained. “So one of the things they could do to do more absurdist plays and plays that maybe critiqued the state in some way was to write children’s shows.”

Schwartz removed Andersen’s religious overtones and replaced them with allusions to communism and authoritarianism and a rather biting critique of the avarice so rampant in the upper echelons of the Soviet Union, Lion said.

It was the combination of getting to work with another fledgling performance group, the unique material and the opportunity to participate in a new style of theater that sparked the interest of the Lesser-Known Players, Hodges said.

“From our perspective, as the host of this show, one of the reasons why we’re excited to get it here is that not only is it exotic and nontraditional, but it’s also very timely,” she said. “It’s very much what we’re about, presenting maybe an edgier work or something different.”

Different indeed, as the production promises to be unique not only for its source material but also its deeply engaging and interactive style.

Audience members will find themselves transported into a world of talking birds, treacherous kings and lovable bandits, where the story will unfold literally all around them. Those willing can even take part in the action.

The show will be a completely different and wholly unique experience for each person from one night to another, Lion said.

“For me, immersive theater is about immersing the audience in the world, using the space in such a way as — instead of the audience just watching in one place — the play happens all around them,” he said.

Guests will move between three distinct rooms during “The Snow Queen,” the director explained, as the story unfolds before, behind and right next to them.

“Different parts of the story happen in different places,” he said. “You’re not just watching the show. For example, you’re here and it’s a hunting scene and the actors run around the building and you’ll feel the building shake. So you’re interacting with the piece in a way that’s not just visual but it’s sensory.”

Even the temperature of each room is customized so as to complete the total experience.

Immersive takes on rarely translated Russian versions of creepy fairy tales are exactly the kind of work the Lesser-Known Players formed to put on, Hodges said.

“We’re trying to do our own [projects], and also curate other groups in to do works that for a variety of reasons probably wouldn’t be done at the larger playhouses,” she said. “This production completed something for our season.

“We wanted to do something that was Eastern European in origin,” she explained. “And also we didn’t have anything, because of the nature of what we do, that was welcoming for children.”

The show also qualifies as a holiday production without being too schmaltzy about it, Lion said.

“It’s a holiday show without sort of beating you over the head that it’s a holiday show,” he laughed. “It captures the spirit of the holidays, but it’s not specifically Christmas-oriented.”

Tickets, $15 for children, students and seniors and $20 for adults, are on sale. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, Friday, Dec. 9, and Saturday, Dec. 10, as well as 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 and Sunday, Dec. 11.

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