By: Paulanne Simmons
The icy white set and eerie music that plays intermittently throughout Israel
Horowitz’s Man in Snow might give this play a Twilight Zone
quality. But, in fact, Horowitz’s play (which he also directs) is very much
about real people in a real world. At least for the most part.
Will Lyman plays David, a 65-year-old who has just retired from a career in finance. He is leading a group of Japanese newlyweds on Mount McKinley (a.k.a. Denali).
They are on the mountain because they believe sons conceived under the northern
lights will have a special potency. We never learn about the daughters.
David’s space in the present is a 20×20 white square painted on the stage. From here he interacts with the other characters through a series of one-on-one conversations.
David phones his wife, Franny (Sandra Shipley), a book editor; his daughter, Emily
(Ashley Risteen), who has followed in his wife’s footsteps; and his cousin and
best friend Connie (Paul O’Brien), who has organized the mountaineering program.
He has spiritual encounters with his son Joey (Francisco Solorzana), who was
killed in a motorcycle accident six years ago. He has meaningful talks with his
translator Mr. Takayama (Ron Nakahara), whom he meets while both are outside
their cabins watching the aurora borealis. There are also a few
Slowly, we find out that David blames himself for his son’s death, he still feels
guilty over an affair with a woman in his office, and he is trying to convince
himself he didn’t favor his son over his daughter. David is also a poet, and
Horowitz lets him give us several examples of his works-in-progress, all of
which we could do without. However, despite these self-indulgent lapses, Lyman
makes David tortured, tragic and ultimately very likable.
The scenes in which Franny confronts David with his infidelity and Emily
confronts him with his lack of love are particularly affecting and well-acted.
And the steady if somewhat oafish O’Brien provides a consistent voice of reason
in David’s time of need. If Connie is not an especially spiritual or eloquent
man, he is certainly empathetic.
Ron Nakahara is luminous as Mr. Takayama, David’s translator, who we are encouraged to believe was always faithful to his recently deceased wife, has a fine
relationship with all of his children and is at peace with himself.
Undoubtedly, David sees in his translator all he would like to be himself.
Horowitz has written that Man in Snow was inspired by an incident he heard about
in 1997 while in he was in Fairbanks, where a man was trapped in his cabin
under an avalanche of snow. The man spent his final moments saying goodbye to
his wife. So it’s somewhat disappointing that the last scene, where we see
David in a coffin-like box filled with “snow” talking to Franny via cell phone,
is not more effective, or even interesting.
There’s something about seeing David in such a condition that reminds one of a Saturday Night Live sketch. We wonder when he’ll jump out of the box and the joke
will be over. But even if we could take this scene seriously, Horowitz has not
managed to infuse it with any new information or emotional content. However,
despite this weak ending, the play has many emotional high points.
Man in Snow began life as a radio play. Twelve years later it was performed onstage in Italy and then toured major cities in that country. Encouraged by Man in Snow’s
success, Horowitz set out to develop a 90-minute play for the Actor’s Studio.
Eventually, the play premiered at Gloucester Stage Company (where he is
founding artistic director) in the summer of 2105, and a few changes were made
to the script. This is the production currently at La MaMa.
Although Horowitz has won considerable international fame, his roots are surely in the
realm of New York City’s off-off-Broadway. It’s nice to see him back home.
Man in Snow runs through Nov. 27 at La MaMa’s First Floor Theatre, 74a East 4
Photos: Gary Ng