Horovitz hits new heights with ‘Man in Snow’

04Oct16

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By MARK SARDELLA

Israel Horovitz’s new play is something of a departure for the prolific playwright and Wakefield native. Man in Snow, at Gloucester Stage Company through Oct. 23, is a long way from the gritty, working class atmosphere of a Gloucester fish-packing plant or the romantic neighborhoods of Paris – and not just geographically.

man_snow5Man in Snow takes place, at least literally, on Mt. McKinley (now Denali) in Alaska. The protagonist, David, (played by Will Lyman) has recently retired from a successful career in the financial industry. He’s also mourning the death of his son, Joey, who was killed in a motorcycle accident six years earlier.

David has returned to Mt. McKinley, which he summited at age 25, at the invitation of his cousin, Connie, who runs a program that leads mountain climbers. But David won’t be climbing to the top this time. Instead, he has agreed to lead a group of well-to-do Japanese honeymooners who hope to conceive a child under the magic spell of the Northern Lights.

Horovitz has said that the inspiration for Man in Snow came to him while on a trip to Alaska in 1997. While there, an avalanche occurred on Mt. McKinley. A man became trapped in a cabin under 30-feet of snow. He spent the final minutes of his life on a mobile phone saying goodbye to his wife.

The GSC production was originally to be directed by Italian director Andrea Paciotto, who has directed the play in Italy. When those plans fell through, Horovitz stepped in to direct his own play. He’s assembled an impressive professional cast.
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Playing David’s wife Franny, an east coast publishing executive, is Sandra Shipley. The couple doesn’t let the physical distance come between them, as David phones her frequently from the mountain.

Francisco Solorzano is David’s dead son, Joey, with whom David has frequent conversations in which the father-son roles seem reversed, with Joey providing reassurance, guidance and support to David.

Ron Nakahara plays Mr. Takayama, the 89-year-old who has accompanied the honeymooners as a translator, but who also proves adept as a life interpreter for David.

David’s cousin Connie is played by longtime Horovitz collaborator Paul O’Brien. Connie is David’s alter ego. Where David’s working life was spent in an office and his emotional life harbors regret and sorrow, Connie has lived life for the moment and on his own terms, and has no use for regret.
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Ashley Risteen plays David’s daughter Emily, who, like her mother, works in publishing. She has never felt that she measured up to Joey in her father’s eyes.

Through a series of phone conversations that David has with Franny and Emily, as well as his in-person conversations with Connie and Mr. Takayama, we gradually learn of David’s world of unexpressed feelings, painful memories and deepest sorrows and regrets.

There are moving moments seen in flashback – when Emily reveals to her father on the day of Joey’s funeral that she never felt that he loved her as much as he loved his son; Franny confronting David over an affair he’d been having.

The conversations that David and his dead son have are especially poignant. David blames himself for Joey’s death. (“Joey was going too fast, like I taught him.”) David wants to know that Joey is doing alright in the afterlife, and worries about whether he’ll be able to find Joey when he gets there.

man_snow5The abstract set for Man in Snow is minimal: a white circle on the floor of the stage with white risers behind it. The Northern Lights are suggested by colors that are projected on white curtains behind the risers.

The minimal staging allows the audience to focus on the rich imagery and symbolism in Horovitz’s prose. White is everywhere, and it represents more than just snow. David describes aging men like himself and Connie with their whitening hair as “men in snow.” All of the actors are barefoot and clad in white throughout the play.

David has returned to Mt. McKinley to revisit one of the high points of his youth. But what he may be seeking is something closer to purification.

Israel Horovitz’s Man in Snow runs through Oct. 23 at Gloucester Stage. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Single ticket prices are $28 to $38 with discounts available for senior citizens and patrons 25 years old and under. All performances are held at 267 East Main Street, Gloucester. Purchase tickets online or call the Box Office at 978-281-4433.

[Man in Snow, written and directed by Israel Horovitz. Costume Design, Chelsea Kerl. Scenic Design, Jenna McFarland Lord. Lighting Design, Mark O’Maley. Sound Design, David Reiffel. Stage Manager, Marsha Smith. Props Design, Jenna Worden. Music by Julia Kent.]

horovitz5Playwright/screenwriter/director Israel Horovitz grew up on Elm Street in Wakefield, Massachusetts and attended the Warren School before graduating from Wakefield High School in 1956. He has written over 70 plays, which have been performed worldwide. In 2014, he wrote the screenplay for and directed the feature film, My Old Lady, starring Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Photos by Gary Ng

[This review appeared in the October 5, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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