The seeming perpetual popularity of the Star Wars saga indicates that the interest in myth is enduring. But before there was George Lucas, there was Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm. The noted New York theatre company Blessed Unrest is presenting a stage version of Andersen’s The Snow Queen, which of course received a very successful film adaptation in Disney’s Frozen several years ago.

The Snow Queen focuses on young friends Kay and Gerda. During the course of a snowstorm a mysterious object enters Kay’s eye and his perception of his friends and behavior becomes malevolent. He disappears from his home, and Gerda embarks on a journey to find him. In exploring the theme of how a person’s view of the world and personality can become sour, The Snow Queen in many ways seems like a not so distant cousin of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

We posed some questions to director Jessica Burr and writer Matt Opatrny about this stage production of The Snow Queen. Burr is also the Artistic Director of Blessed Unrest.

What inspired this production of The Snow Queen and what themes is it exploring? Press materials state that the play presents the title character “as a metaphor for the cool allure of modern technology – the force that alters most present-day interpersonal interactions.” Can you expand on this?

Jessica Burr and Matt Opatrny: The Snow Queen is a heroic story without violence. Gerda, the young girl at its heart, is strong, steady, open, willing to enter strange lands with strange people, and able to make her voice heard. She knows how to trust her instincts and when to ask for help. She is a hero who is not afraid to cry, and whose tears are not a call to be rescued. There is no climactic battle scene. Gerda saves the day not by defeating anyone or destroying anything, but by loving her friend and enabling him to feel again. We think this is a perfect story to tell right now, to children and grownups alike.

The Snow Queen herself is a unique villain, if she can even be called that. She doesn’t actually do anything sinister. She takes Kay to her palace, but only after he seeks her out, and when Gerda ultimately finds him (spoiler alert) the Snow Queen isn’t even there. He’s free to leave but has grown cold and unfeeling. The world now is full of pretty technological lures that pull us in and suck away huge portions of our lives, often leaving us feeling trapped by them, when all we have to do is turn them off and walk away. I feel like the devices we are all tethered to are offered as a way to connect, but I see them as tools of isolation that deaden our senses. Kids especially need to see technology as an option, not a need, and recognize what they are giving up when time is passed on devices.

All of that is under the surface in our production. There are no cell phones on stage! We leave it open to the audience to interpret what the Snow Queen represents, and what is driving Kay’s desire to be with her.

The Disney film Frozen was also based on The Snow Queen. How is your production similar and/or different to the film?

Burr and Opatrny: Frozen may have been initially inspired by The Snow Queen, but what they ended up with has very little to do with the Andersen story. Our production stays fairly true to Andersen’s tale, which is dark and strange and profound and full of bizarre and hysterically funny people and animals. I’m not a fan of Disney, and while elements of Frozen were better than I expected, I think they could have trusted their source a lot more. And why were all the women super thin and short and all the men enormously large?

Do you think that this is a stage production that both children and adults will enjoy?

Burr and Opatrny: Absolutely. We are an experimental physical theatre company. Our plays often include full nudity and sex and death and non-linear storytelling. Most of our shows you would never bring a child to, but our daughter, who is now 10, has seen them all. This is our first show that we specifically made for her, and as we developed it last year in a New Victory Theatre LabWorks residency, we worked with her entire 4th grade class. We found that the kids were ready for all the darkness and depth we wanted to give them, and more. They were open and accepting of our experimental aesthetic, and not daunted by the abstract. Thus we felt free to do what we always do, and make a play that we will enjoy and be moved and challenged by, as well as our daughter. This process also freed me up to indulge my cheeseball humor, and write my own “Who’s on first” scene. And there are a few tidbits for the grownups that will fly right over the kids’ heads. So yes, bring your kids if you have them, but if not, come anyway and you’ll be happy you did.

Why do you think that the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm are still so popular? Do they have a universality that speaks to the present day?

Burr and Opatrny: They do. They are complex and weird, and challenge our preconceptions and blow open our imaginations. They are fun and scary and exhilarating and don’t always end well. They resist tying everything up into simple palatable packages, and that leaves them open to interpretation, to finding your own meaning. Storytelling that is challenging and exciting, fun and dark, profound and ridiculous, that’s what we are always striving for at Blessed Unrest, and Andersen and the Grimms were masters of it.

Would you like to share with us what your future projects are?

Burr and Opatrny: Next up, also at New Ohio Theatre, is Platonov (running February 16 — March 11, 2018), newly translated and adapted by Laura Wickens from the unfinished play by Anton Chekhov. A man of status with questionable sexual ethics runs rampage. A society fixated on the chaos of the moment ignores their collapsing economic system. A culture of open gun possession leads to rash and deadly consequences. This focused, raw, and intense rendition shows how Chekhov, nearly 150 years ago in Russia, was piercing through the issues we are facing in America today. (I don’t recommend bringing the kids to this one.)

After that, Blessed Unrest is honored to be performing in New York Theater Workshop’s inaugural Next Door at NYTW season, with the New York premiere of This is Modern Art by Idris Goodwin & Kevin Coval (running June 1 – 24, 2018). In this acclaimed and controversial play, a crew of marginalized artists risks everything to make their voices heard, defying our assumptions about what art is and where it belongs.

We are also developing Refuge, our next collaboration with Teatri Oda of Kosovo, based on the harboring of Jewish refugees by Albanian families during WWII, and Reparations, a new play digging into the legacy of slavery and inequality in America.

Is there anything in general that you would like to tell audiences about The Snow Queen?

Burr and Opatrny: We’ve been making plays at Blessed Unrest for 17 years, and it is an honor and a privilege to finally be making one specifically for the next generation. We hope this production will profoundly alter preconceptions of what “children’s theatre” is, and remind all of us old jaded New Yorkers that it’s OK to laugh at a talking reindeer, and cry at the power of compassion and determination. And there will be apple cider for the kids and wine for the adults. We hope to see you there!

The Snow Queen performs December 31-January 14 at the New Ohio Theatre located at 154 Christopher St. in New York City.