East of the Sun and West of the Moon
Looking Glass Theatre’s Norwegian folk tale turned play delights audiences of all ages in Brooklyn
Perhaps you have seen the iconic Norwegian image of a beautiful young girl, hair cascading over her shoulders, riding a polar bear. Perhaps you did not know the genesis of this image; for it serves as a popular illustration for a beloved Norwegian folktale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” It is one of the Norwegian tales that was recorded and put in print by folklorists Asbjornsen and Moe, around 1845. But of course it had been a long-time favorite before then. It is often compared to Beauty and the Beast, but with a golden apple, golden needle and thread, and a grape seed. Oh yes, and a Polar or White Bear.
Lucky children of all ages in the New York area can watch this folk tale come to life in a performance at the Gallery Players space on 14th Street in Brooklyn, brought to you by the Looking Glass Theatre. This version of the play was written by Frankie Little Hardin and directed by Julia Stirling Martin.
The protagonist and hero is the youngest daughter in a poor family. She agrees to go away with a White Bear in exchange for her family being provided with sufficient food and shelter. The Bear has one request, that the girl not look at him in the evening. It is then that he turns into a man. He has been enchanted by a Troll Queen whom he had wronged, and his spell will never be broken if he is seen in human form. It is the last evening of his year-long enchantment when the Troll Queen entices the girl to break her promise, even providing her with a candle.
Sadly, he now has to go with the Troll Queen and marry her daughter. That is when the girl makes it her quest to find the Bear. All she has to go by is that he is being kept in a castle that is east of the wind and west of the moon. Along the way she is given a golden apple, a golden needle and thread, and a seed, all of which will come in handy. Eventually, she is able to find him and save him, a nice twist having a female save a male.
The performance was a delight. The cast of only five performers found creative ways in which to involve the audience. I especially liked watching the Troll Queen and Daughter’s relationship and physicality. It was hysterical when the cast played the east, west, south, and north winds, each with a regional twist and appropriate tune in the background.
There are many lovely lessons in this story. The girl fiercely strives to save the Bear Prince, after she has broken her promise to him. It is not that the girl is unafraid, but rather that she is. She faces her fears; a lesson that children of both genders, as well as adults, can relate to and learn from. I also liked how each gift that the girl is given relates to wisdom about love. The golden apple represents the idea that love must be nourished. The golden needle and thread reminds us that love needs careful mending. The grape seed shows that love grows with patience.
This performance offers: a good story, good acting, and audience interaction, which makes for a captivating hour whether you are or are not accompanied by a child. Don’t miss it!
The play can be seen on Saturdays, May 3, May 31, and June 21. For further information email www.lookingglasstheatrenyc.com Use code “Bear” to get $5 tickets.
This article originally appeared in the April 4, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.