Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews

Slava's Snowshow

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - December 7, 2008

Slava's Snowshow Created and Staged by Slava. By Arrangement with Slava, Gwenael Allan and Ross Mollison. Sound design by Rastyam Dubinnikov. Lighting design by Alexander Pecherskiy. Art direction by Gary Cherniakhovskii. The Role of Yellow will be played by one of the following: Slava Polunin, Robert Saralp, Derek Scott. Performers playing Green Clowns: Spencer Chandler, Johnson, Tatiana Karamysheva, Dmitry Khamzin, Christopher Lynam, Fyodor Makarov, Ivan Polunin, Elena Ushakova.
Theatre: Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Running time: 90 minutes, including one intermission
Audience: Not recommended for children under five. Everyone must have a ticket regardless of age.
Schedule: Through January 4. Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm and 7 pm
Ticket prices: $69.50, $111.50, and $251.50
Tickets: Telecharge

Slava Polunin
Photo by Veronique Vial.

Whether you prefer sampling childlike joy through the eyes and experiences of actual children or through the hands, feet, and mouths of artists skilled in creating ironic distillations of it for more sophisticated palates, you'll get your fill at Slava's Snowshow. The warming spectacle that's just opened at the Helen Hayes, where it's running through January 4, asks only that you be open to whatever it throws at you.

Be forewarned, though, that this could include snowballs constructed from tiny pieces of crumpled paper, the sticky cotton fibers of an auditorium-filling cobweb, or - in the celestial finale - planet-size balloons just perfect for passing, pounding, or perhaps ducking to your heart's content. While this show has no plot, no action, and hardly any dialogue to speak of (at least in English), it's nonetheless one of the least passive - yet most family-friendly - shows in town.

At the performance I attended, the children around me were entranced playing with the thousands of paper snowflakes that dotted the seats and drifted along the aisles. They squealed in delight at the sudden descending of a giant spider from the flies. And they laughed longer and applauded more loudly than their parents did at the low-key antics of the extraordinarily put-upon Russian clown Slava Polunin and his gaggle of mischievous green-clad cohorts who see the fourth wall as, at best, a vague suggestion.

This isn't to say adults will be left out in the cold. Many of the routines of the baleful central figure, known only as Yellow (the color of his furry, puffy jumpsuit) and played by either Polunin, Robert Saralp, and Derek Scott, mine loneliness and longing for connection that grown-ups tend to understand more deeply than do children. (A coat hanging on a rack becomes a cherished friend in one surprisingly sweet moment.) And while Yellow's hapless attempts to recapture his own youth through games of pretend and heavy-footed frivolity are comprehensible at any age, you'll appreciate them more if you've been around the block enough times to know what you might have missed your first time out.

Yes, this is probably overanalyzing. Sometimes a broom is just a broom, even when it's used to sweep an audience member's head, and sometimes a water bottle is just a water bottle, even when it's punctured with holes, attached to the top of an umbrella, and twirled wildly. Both of these things, and many more, happen during the full-contact show, which explodes with chaos at the start of intermission (when the Green clowns set their troublemaking sights on the audience) and culminates in a violently swirling whiteout and that parade of careening planets. More than any of this year's other seasonal offerings, this show is suffused with enough wonder to make you feel like you're seven years old all over again.

Connoisseurs of Off-Broadway, take note: Things have not changed much since this show's original New York engagement at the Union Square Theatre four years ago. It still runs just 90 minutes - including a 20-minute intermission - and even at that length seems somewhat stretched; and in its sumptuous art direction (by Gary Cherniakhovskii) and super-loud sound design (Rastyam Dubinnikov) it's just as eye-popping and ear-poking. Though a few of the bits from four years ago have been modified, enough are the same that if you attended but didn't adore the crystallized cavortings of Polunin and his friends before, you're not likely to be much warmer to them now.

But if you did like them then, or if you've never seen them before, Slava's Snowshow is a tasty ice cream cone of an outing, and the most cerebrally silly holiday present being unwrapped on a major New York stage this winter. Just make sure you come well-wrapped yourself: Especially if you're sitting in the orchestra, wear clothing you won't mind getting wet; and tight-fitting clothing is the surest way to ensure that after the blizzard hits, you won't have to cope with trails of snowflakes following you home. Otherwise, hanging loose and enjoying the indoor inclement weather is definitely the order of the day.

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