Israel Horovitz’ play Man in Snow began its life as a radio play, and the playwright adapted it for the stage. The set consists of a single chair and a significant amount of the dialogue consists of phone conversations. It still feels like a radio play.
Man in Snow is a portrait of a man, David, haunted by the memory of a lost son, Joey. The play begins with his wife, Franny, screaming “No”, as the family has just been told of Joey’s death in a motorcycle accident. The remainder of the play jumps around in later time, and mostly takes place six years later,
David speaks to his lost son and Joey generally appears onstage when he does. But David talks to Joey even during conversations with living characters. This would be effective expression of inner life, but some of the things David says to Joey are so obvious that they lack specificity and dramatic pith – “Why am I alive, Joey” and “Why did you die, Joey?”
David guides a group of tourists up Mt. McKinley, and he calls his wife on the phone a few times. David and Franny make small talk during these conversations. They say “I love you” so often it’s suspicious. And indeed, we find out that there are issues of fidelity that complicate their marriage. It’s during these conversations that the play is most effective, as we hear people trying to force warmth through resentment.
There are three other characters – David’s daughter, a tour guide and the tour company manager. Emily, the daughter, is small comfort to David; she heartlessly demands attention after Joey’s death. The guide and the manager offer companionship and conversation, but none of the roles ever network to form plot.
We welcome the moments when David recites the poetry he’s been writing. “This is snow in August,” he says.
Mr. Horovitz directs the show himself, and he stresses the emotional cold – the snow – surrounding the character. His dialogue has moments of lovely lyricism. “Is every light another person?” David says to Joey, speaking of the stars. The actors are undeniably skilled – Will Lyman as David and Sandra Shipley as Franny – with their focus and high definition.
But their talents are misapplied. The cast deliver the lines so deliberately and artificially that they seem to be reading from a script. They’re expressing the distance between David and the others, but the result is acting that lacks privacy even when the dialogue expresses intimacy. Because it doesn’t engage us, this meditation on death – there are two deaths in the play – is maudlin.
Man in Snow is a Gloucester Stage Company Production presented by La MaMa in association with Barefoot Theatre Company & Compagnia Horovitz-Paciotto.