nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
December 5, 2008
Are you a child, preferably older than, say, five or six years? Do you have a child? Do you have an inner child? If you answer affirmatively to any of the above, Slava's Snowshow is definitely for you. Are you a curmudgeon? A 21st-century Scrooge? I guarantee this show will melt some ice even from your heart. I hesitate to set the bar at a minimum of five years old—everyone will get something out of this show. Clowns, after all, are really for everyone, right? Unless of course you had one of those terrifying anti-clown traumas—then this show is definitely not for you! Or, on second thought, maybe it is!
How can I describe the show without spoiling the many surprises in store? To me, it is the journey of a clown in yellow through the clouds, on which path he encounters a troop of clowns in green with whom he interacts in various ways. There is audience interaction, comedy, pathos, truly awesome visual effects, a terrific sound design, and a really big finish, followed by a really bigger finish.
Though you will probably not cry, your heartstrings will be pulled at times. You will also guffaw in spite of yourself. You may laugh gleefully. Certainly you will have a smile on your face for the whole performance—even those of you who would rather chew nails than see clowns perform.
That is really the amazing thing about what creator Slava Polunin, designer Victor Plotkinov, and director Victor Kramer have produced. They and the rest of their very talented team have created a world where, from the moment you enter the Helen Hayes Theatre lobby, you embark on a journey to your heart of joy. There is snow everywhere—in the form of white tissue confetti. This snow is most prevalent amongst the seating, where an usher cautions you to watch your footing and pretend the fake snow is the real thing because they are equally as slippery. Once seated, the effective mood lighting, part of the outstanding design by Alexander Pechershiy which encompasses both stage and house lights, brings to mind a magical moonlit snowy evening. Just be forewarned, some throwing of "snow" is bound to happen—especially by the enthralled younger theatergoers.
When Slava appears as the yellow clown, you immediately know you are in the presence of a master. The true genius actor is one who is present in stillness; something that I think makes great clowns truly great. Slava's absolute presence in the moment and total command of the stage and the audience is extraordinary—especially amazing because he is doing nothing but standing and being there. As the yellow clown then begins his journey he has us totally with him through to the end.
Those performing the green clowns are equally as talented. Their rapport with the audience is total, as evidenced by a marvelous improvisation with the audience just prior to the second act. Be forewarned: clowns may be among you and you might get a little wet—which is only fair, since the "snow" isn't wet at all.
At all times the sound design by Rastyam Dubinnikov underscores the action perfectly, at times setting the mood, at other times reflecting the performers' feelings and sometimes humorously commenting on the action.
Though I was fortunate to see Slava himself in the main role, two other men, Robert Saralp and Derek Scott, also undertake the role of the yellow clown. Given the quality of the work, I have no doubt that either of them are also outstanding. Slava Polunin, however, may be in the rarified air of international clowning elites. It is to his credit that he has fashioned a company of clowns that follow in his footsteps.
They are marvelous footsteps that in Snowshow take us on a journey into imagination and wonder. During the final coup-de-théâtre, when there is maximum audience participation, enjoyment, and glee, there sat Slava himself with his back to the proscenium, marveling at what he had created—a world where for at least a couple of hours his audience has been able to go on his journey and travel to that inner child, surely a cliché, but most certainly also very real. For this moment, pure joy pervades the Helen Hayes.
Slava's Snowshow is funny, poignant, and breathtakingly beautiful. It is a rare delight!