nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
September 15, 2011
Winter, by one of contemporary Russian playwright Yevgeni Grishkovetz, is an ambitious modern-day fantasy about a pair of paratroopers led through a series of hallucinations in a wintry forest by an impish figure of Russian folklore, the Snow Maiden. Part A Midsummer Night’s Dream, part Waiting for Godot, Winter is an uneven but engaging entry into the contemporary theater of the absurd.
Into the whimsical set design from Derek Loehr, a snow-covered forest floor represented by heaps of downy white pillows and a sky full of stars by twinkling party lights, flounces the Snow Maiden, played by Nicole Kontelefa. She introduces the tale of two soldiers, played by Ben Sargent and Raphael Schlowsky, who are dropped into her forest to complete an obscure mission at an unspecified point in the long, cold night. The soldiers while away the time in Beckettian fashion by engaging in circular conversations that are intermittently interrupted by the Snow Maiden’s inducement of illusions of the past and playful dance choreography, featuring classic American and Russian pop songs.
Kontelefa is suitably graceful and elfish as she draws the baffled men into her boisterous tricks, and her chemistry with both, especially Schlowsky, is solid. There are some moments of real insight in the trio’s interactions but too often the actors simply drift through the dialogue without fully plumbing the script’s wry humor and complexity. Grishkovetz’s play is best served when the performers exploit its inherently exuberant Russianness, which is unfortunately not often enough. Director Vasanth Santosham is working with an intricate web of existential meaning, broad comedy and high theatricality here, but could have perhaps provided more structure to see that his generally capable actors carried the play’s unique sensibility consistently through the piece. Still, this is a game effort from cast and crew and the faults of execution don’t include a lack of inventiveness or enthusiasm.
Overall, Winter is a generally entertaining piece of new theater and I find the more I think about it, the more there is to think about.