Man in Snow currently at La Mama’s First Floor Theatre is an exceptional work by the always intriguing Israel Horovitz in a sterling production by the Gloucester Stage Company. Man in Snow is presented in association with Barefoot Theatre Company & Compagnia Horovitz-Paciotto.
The play is in part humorous, in part poignant, and richly profound, poetic, and human throughout. Using poetry and metaphor, Horovitz elucidates the many levels of his protagonist David’s consciousness as he confronts the upending of his peace, principally the death of his son in an accident six years prior. The character of David is incisively and sensitively inhabited by Will Lyman in a powerful performance.
The production’s acute and symbolic costumes, color palette, lighting, indeed the entire production design, and the staging, spaced in and near David’s cabin, suggest the spiritual. They imbue the surreality of David’s memory and imagination with power, and uplifting transcendence. All of these elements and the superb ensemble create a memorable and illuminating theatrical vision which you will not easily find elsewhere in the city this season. Happily, La Mama’s mission to offer experimental theater a place to innovate has given Man in Snow a home away from home where it may shine, and we may appreciate the genius of its performers, designers, and playwright.
The play’s themes are multi-layered, the conflicts various, all of them human, all of them irrevocable. They relate to inescapable questions including: How do we confront the mystery of death? What is consciousness? Does reality also include a seamless view into the realms of spirit? How do we work through the deaths of loved ones and the prospect of our own? To what extent do imagination and consciousness help prepare us for what is ahead?
On one level the play is the account of a man of “snow” whose white hair suggests he has gained the wisdom of experience and is approaching old age. He reflects on his current situation through bursts of consciousness from irreconcilable memories of unchangeable events.
These reflections whirl out from his consciousness as he attempts to work through the psychic loss and misery of his son’s accident and the impact this trauma has had on his marriage and his relationships with his daughter and wife. Pitted against his attempt to confront and work through a mountain of pain is his need to escape it. We discover during the course of a flashback of imagination a fight with his wife: He has attempted an escape through an extramarital affair, which perhaps will hold in abeyance the mystery of why his son died (he was his best friend). The affair is a diversion, perhaps, for his son’s material absence is almost beyond what David can emotionally sustain.
The backdrop for David’s attempt at reconciliation and forward movement is an excursion to Mount McKinley, which he first visited when he was 19. He is a guide for Japanese honeymooners who are there to happily conceive children under the aurora borealis (they believe the electric display will insure their children’s fortitude, and perhaps their emotional as well as physical strength). From the mountain David speaks by cell phone with wife Franny (Sandra Shipley is dynamite in her deeply heartfelt portrayal), his cousin Connie (Paul O’Brien’s cheerful assertiveness is moderated by sensitive pathos), and his daughter Emily (Ashley Risteen is provocative, reassuring, and sweet).
He also has an intriguing, profound conversation with his translator Mr. Takayama (Ron Nakahara in a very fine performance), who is in a cabin nearby and comes outside with David to watch the aurora borealis, that conduit for energy and stunning visual beauty, in action. Yet David is alone and profoundly so, despite his continual interactions with others.
As David lives on the mountain, ironically/humorously guarding the conception of new life, he attempts to reconcile the regrets of his past through memory and imagination. On another level Horovitz suggests current research into consciousness and the very nature of reality itself, whose basic elements (atoms, quarks) gyrate into a metaphysical and spiritual realm contrary to what the five human senses apprehend or what scientific reductionism with its emphasis on a materialistic perspective “believes.”
Thus, when David’s son Joey (a fine Francisco Solorzano) appears and speaks with David, we recognize the limitlessness of David’s consciousness and imagination. We understand and empathize with David’s yearning to connect with his son and, in effect, do the impossible, communicate beyond the boundaries of materialism to form another reality which will sustain him and get him past the great grief he has to live with. Thus, as Joey reassures him throughout the play that he is “there,” whether in memory, in spirit, or in another realm of consciousness, that affirmation is one that David hopes is real after all.
Thus, the second interpretation of “snow” is suggested, one that is deeper and more profound. David is lost and is attempting to stretch the boundaries of who he is and what he believes. He is between living a life of happiness worth living, and a life he cannot understand as he must confront his son’s death in daily torment, unable to find satisfying and restful answers. During this time of snow-being, lost and alone in a white despair (snow and white metaphors abound; white represents death in some Asian cultures, etc.), he recites poetry he has been writing more frequently while on the mountain. The lines are filled with images that express his feelings about his relationships. Lyman speaks them stunningly, elucidating David’s wistfulness and longing.
The third interpretation of David in “snow,” after the surreality of Joey’s appearances and David’s conversations with him in other-worldly aspects, comes toward the play’s conclusion. It is a shocking contrast to the ethereality that has gone before. The snow image created is beautifully designed and conceived, yet horrifying and almost unimaginable. This is no spoiler alert. I will not clarify this iteration of snow. You will just have to see the production.
It is at this point that Horovitz brings all of the elements together: David’s relationships and conversations with his son, daughter, and wife, and the flashbacks to past events. All become realized by the end. For David, the unanswered questions are answered and Joey’s injunctions that he will be with him and has been with him all along become the reality that David knows is real. However, for us and for his wife Franny, the uncertainty continues.
This play, this production, is a masterwork that will resonate with you long afterward. You can see Man in Snow at La Mama’s First Floor Theatre, 74a East 4th Street in New York City. The production has no intermission and runs until November 27. It is an unequivocal must-see for the witticisms, the brilliance, and the humanity. I loved it!