By Myra Chanin
I try to see any Israel Horovitz play performed in New York. I find him a versatile and interesting playwright whose characters and themes always supply me with food for thought and whose dialog ranges from emotionally gripping to LOL funny. At age 77, with 70+ produced plays, Israel Horovitz is slim, handsome and spritely gent who bounded down the aisle between the stadium seats at La MaMa’s First Floor Theater to introduce Man in Snow with the energy and élan of someone whose concerns about senior entitlements lay in the distant future.
Man in Snow, his current New York production, was originally written 20 years ago as an award winning BBC radio play, but Horovitz recently revisited, revised and totally re-conceived it for the stage. It premiered earlier this year at Gloucester Stage, a theatrical company co-founded in 1979 by Horovitz as a safe harbor for playwrights and new plays, and the same cast is performing its New City premiere at La Mama now.
The play opens on Jenna McFarland Lord’s stunning set of white rippled cloth with yellow, blue and green lights bathing the cloth intermittently representing the Alaskan mountains. Its cast of six, attired by Chelsea Kerl in soothing shades of white, cream and pale gray top-of-the-line J. Crew at its sleekest made me want to rush to the mall to buy one of everything they wore.
The “man in snow” is David Kipling (Will Lyman). The first ring of snow surrounding him refers to the thinning white hair on his head. The second ring of snow is on Mt. Denali, which he summited many years ago when it was Mt. McKinley, and where at the request of his cousin, best friend and professional guide Connie (Paul O’Brien) he has agreed to accompany a group of Japanese honeymooners, overseen by Mr. Takayama (Ron Nakahara). Mr. Takayama is David’s contemporary. The honeymooners have come to Mt. Denali with the hope of conceiving a child under its northern lights, which, according to legend, will give their sons exceptional sexual prowess. What a contrast between David and Mr. Takayama’ lives. Mr. T. and his wife conceived 12 children under the Northern Lights, and (sigh!) every one of them live (along with their children, etc.) a stone’s throw away from their Mom and Dad! Every American grandmother’s dream!
David is in mourning for many things. He’s recently retired from a lifetime in finance – undertaken ostensibly to feed his family – but which in retrospect he feels has been a waste of his life. He originally wanted to be a poet and during his stay on Denali begins writing poems in the privacy of his cabin. David feels guilty about the death of his beloved son Joey (Francisco Solarzano), killed in a motorcycle accident six years earlier. Did Joey die because his father urged Joey to be bold?
David’s also mourning his marriage. David’s wife Franny (Sandra Shipley) went back to work as a book editor and, feeling she loved her work more than she loved him, he had an affair which she learned about. Not good and not forgiven. David’s main comfort is the presence of the spirit of Joey, whom David questions about the afterlife without receiving adequate answers. Actually David should be most in mourning for his estrangement from his daughter Emily (Ashley Risteen), who understands her father always loved her less than he loved her brother, either alive and dead. Emily has followed the lead of her mother into publishing and has been very successful but David has always been indifferent to her and any success she achieved. The confrontation between her and her father is one of the most agonizing and powerful scenes in the play.
Horovitz was inspired to write Man in Snow by an actual event in which a man trapped in a cabin under 30 feet of snow after an avalanche, spent the last minutes of his life on a mobile phone saying goodbye to his wife – a formidable but crushing finale to a very dense, haunting and beautifully performed and author directed 80 minute drama. Its one drawback? David’s poetry. It made me think it might not have been such a terrible blow to literature for him to have given it up.
La Mama, First Floor Theater
74a East 4th Street
Until November 27, 2016
Thursday to Saturday 7:30 pm., Sundays 2 pm.
Tickets 646-430-5374 or Ovationtix.com
Photos: Gary Ng