Snow in Midsummer

When we are first introduced to Snow in Midsummer in its U.S. premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and to its central character, Dou Yi, there is joy and hope despite tremendous loss. Dou Yi (Jessica Ko) tells us she is a widow, but she seems content with her memories and her simple life of weaving bamboo animals.

After this brief introduction, the play takes a dramatic shift – several years into the future, into a much darker place and time. When we next see Dou Yi, she is greatly changed and much of what follows involves piecing together what has happened to her.

Snow in Midsummer is based on a 13th-century Chinese play by Guan Hanqing, The Injustice to Dou Yi that Moved Heaven and Earth, but playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig and director Justin Audibert (who also directed the world premiere for the Royal Shakespeare Company) have set this new version very much in the present.

In Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s “Snow in Midsummer,” Dou Yi (Jessica Ko, left) wreaks havoc on a town and its inhabitants, including Handsome Zhang (Daisuke Tsuji) and Tianyun (Amy Kim Waschke). Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

That present is New Harmony, a remote factory town in China, in the middle of a horrible drought. When we first meet the factory workers, the factory where they work is in the process of being sold from its current owner, Handsome Zhang (Daisuke Tsuji), to an ambitious businesswoman, Tianyun (Amy Kim Waschke).

Tianyun and her adopted daughter Fei-Fei (Olivia Pham) have moved to New Harmony looking for a new life with a new business — but it’s unclear how their story, or even Handsome’s, will intersect with Dou Yi’s.

Dou Yi was convicted of a crime she did not commit, and she cursed New Harmony with drought until justice is served. There are timely themes here of environmental destruction, greed, and the abuse of women by men in power — none of which is easily fixed, as we all know.

But there is hope here, still, in the form of women. For it is Tianyun and Fei-Fei who ultimately have the power to make everything right again for Dou Yi. And it is the three incredible actors playing these roles who powerfully bring it all to life for us on the Angus Bowmer Theatre stage.