Review: Don't Sleep on Snow White-Era Disney Tale "A Venomous Color Part 1: The Fairest"

A Venomous Color Part 1: The Fairest

Written and directed by Cameron Darwin Bossert

Presented by Thirdwing at the wild project

195 E 3rd St., Manhattan, NYC

October 19-24, 2021

Sivan Gordon-Buxbaum as Frances. Courtesy Karen Greco PR
As entertainment sites across the internet catalog which Disney-owned superhero films slated for release in 2022 and 2023 will now be coming out slightly later in 2022 and 2023, A Venomous Color Part 1: The Fairest, a new play written and directed by theater company Thirdwing's founder and Artistic Director Cameron Darwin Bossert, takes audiences back to a time before Disney dominated the entertainment industry—1937, to be exact—for a richly drawn and thoroughly absorbing look at the women in Disney's ink and paint department as they crunch to finish Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Thirdwing's innovative focus on both live and streaming theater means that the multi-episode part 2 of A Venomous Color, subtitled Burbank and dealing with the 1941 animators' strike against Disney, is scheduled to debut its first episode online on October 19th and continues on December 5th. Tickets for the live performance of A Venomous Color Part 1: The Fairest will include a three-month Thirdwing streaming membership; alternatively, purchases of monthly or yearly Thirdwing memberships, starting at $4.99, will include admission to The Fairest on stage as well as access to streaming content.

The play opens with supervisor and Disney in-law Hazel Sewell (Meghan E. Jones) assuring a reporter of the happiness of the "girls" working under her in what was referred to as The Nunnery, a sex-segrated building in which women inked and painted the work of the company's male animators. The Nunnery is, of course, less idyllic than Sewell's PR-friendly summary suggests. A stifling workspace, mandatory overtime, last-minute aesthetic changes, and the gendered aspect of the artistic hierarchy at Disney are just some of the conditions under which our quartet of protagonists, Helen (Emma DeCorsey), Grace (Sara Ruth Brown), Betty Ann (Taylor Cozort), and Frances (Sivan Gordon-Buxbaum) make their underappreciated contribution to a cinematic milestone. Frances, for better and worse, is the most invested in their work as Art, possessed of a focus that gives her a reputation for speed and musing on the way that the animation makes the Wicked Queen feel like a real person—and this is before she begins holding conversations with something like an amalgam of her self-critical inner voice, the actress whose movements were traced for Snow White's body, and the celluloid Snow White herself (Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart), reproduced, or trapped, depending on one's viewpoint, in millions of copies of hundreds of thousands of individual frames. Her intense relationship with the project nevertheless does not prevent her from being removed at a male animator's request from working on the Wicked Queen.

Intense, intelligent, and lonely, with undefined unhappiness in her past, Frances acts as the play's compelling center in a fantastic turn by Gordon-Buxbaum. The women around her, too, are allowed to develop in rich ways and through rich performances, with initial impressions, for example, of Sewell as an unsympathetic managerial figure leading Bonjean-Alpart's privileged actress Margie on a tour of the facilities and Grace as a beau-preoccupied contrast to art-focused Frances giving way to views of different facets of these complex women. Woven through this character development are broad issues that range from the importance of stories, including, in one passage affectingly delivered by Bonjean-Alpart about (the) film as providing companionship for future lonely or unhappy girls; to the affordance, as Frances puts it, of admiration but not respect for the work of the women inkers and painters; to the perhaps counterintuitive sadness involved in completing a big project.

Frances's repeated invocation, "It's a new time," then, possesses multiple valences. And while A Venomous Color Part 1: The Fairest may not offer a happily ever after, it instead provides a deft mix of humor and psychological drama inflected by its historical specificity, and it keeps surprising the audience right through its striking ending. So take a bite of this enchanting apple before its limited run returns it to the forests of the imagination.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards  


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