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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
SLAVA’S SNOWSHOW
at Stephen Sondheim Theatre

FANTASY AND WONDER
By MATT WINDMAN

  Ph: Veronique Vial

Upon entering the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, you’ll notice the rectangular pieces of white paper that cover the floor. It’s snow – or at least it’s supposed to be. You can pick it up and crush it in your hand – or maybe throw a little at your neighbor. Such is the otherworldly, sensory whirlwind setting of Slava’s Snowshow, a dreamlike spectacle that mixes sadness and absurdity with lighthearted playfulness.
 
I originally attended Slava’s Snowshow in 2004 when it played a commercial open-ended run at the now defunct Union Square Theatre. However, I had actually heard about it years earlier when an acting teacher of mine raved about it during a class on physical improvisation/clowning. In 2008, the show played a limited holiday-time run at the Helen Hayes Theatre. (Fun fact: actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a producer of the 2008 run.)
 
More than a decade later, it has returned to Broadway for another engagement, joining other holiday fare such as The Illusionists and A Christmas Carol. I am hard pressed to spot any significant difference between Slava’s Snowshow back in 2004 and today.
 
Slava Polunin, a world-recognized Russian clown (think Bill Irwin or Marcel Marceau), staged and stars in the surreal, tragicomic show. Occasionally, you feel as though you’re not watching a circus, but a Tim Burton film or Samuel Beckett play. The 90-minute production consists of short comedy routines and striking visual imagery. There are no characters and no narrative. Rather, expect loosely connected displays of clowning and miming taking place in a dream-like environment.
 
A red-nosed Slava enters the stage in a baggy yellow jumpsuit, red slippers and a rope from which he apparently plans to hang himself. From the onset, Slava establishes himself as a Little Tramp-like underdog. Yet if you laugh at him, he’ll laugh right back at you. Then, accompanied by a haze of smoke and bubbles, a mischievous gaggle of clowns dressed in green raincoats and big floppy hats arrives to perform various physical tricks. At one point, they cover the audience in an all-consuming cobweb.
 
In the coup de theatre finale, a swirling snowstorm bursts through the center of the stage, striking and blinding the entire audience with wind machines and white floodlights to the tune of “Carmina Burana.” After a blackout, it seems that the chilling winter has passed.
 
The out-of-this-world spectacle experience of Slava’s Snowshow lowers the emotional capacity of the average theatergoer to that of a young child. Like other unusual, nonliterary attractions such as Blue Man Group, Slava’s Snowshow manipulates the ability of theater to send us into a fantasy-based environment of wonder by forcefully yet creatively striking our senses.

 


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