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BWW Review: Entrancingly Funny Russian Clown Piece SLAVA'S SNOWSHOW Returns To Broadway

While there are many artistically pleasing moments to be savored on stage as the entrancingly funny Russian clown piece SLAVA'S SNOWSHOW returns to Broadway for a limited run through the holiday season, you can also have a heck of a good time if you just like having things thrown at you, dropped on you, sprayed at you or bouncing off of you.

Slava's Snowshow
Slava Polunin (Photo: Veronique Vial)

It all starts as soon as you enter the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, where the floors are already covered with drifts of white paper rectangles, a/k/a snowflakes. As the evening progresses, the white stuff might fall on you gently, be blown at you forcefully or a cast member might just heave a sack full of it at your head in a great clump.

Perhaps a water bottle placed atop someone's twirling umbrella will propel a bit of its contents in your direction. Or maybe the contents of another audience member's backpack might be sent your way.

But before you get the impression that this is some wintry recreation of HELLZAPOPPIN', bear in mind that between the rowdier episodes are charming scenes of warmth and pathos.

The creation of lead clown Slava Polunin, SLAVA'S SNOWSHOW premiered in Moscow in 1993 and has been enchanting audiences worldwide ever since. But remember, this is clowning brought to you by a culture whose idea of side-splitting comedy is UNCLE VANYA, so in manner and make-up the crew leans toward the dark, disheveled and deadpan side. Some of the biggest gales of laughter are provoked by short, sharp, sardonic looks out to the audience.

The company includes an ensemble of twelve performers, but it's not disclosed who will be taking the stage at any given performance until a sign is displayed in the lobby. When Polunin does perform, he's the fellow dressed in the baggy yellow outfit with a weary expression on his face as he pulls on seemingly endless rope, has gibberish conversations on giant telephones and, in a very touching scenario, places his arm in an empty coat to create the illusion of saying a tearful goodbye to a companion.

He's joined by a community of clowns wearing green trench coats and caps with long earflaps propped up like wings. One of them seems addicted to applause and takes a bow whenever possible, coaxing patrons to applaud louder each time. Another plays out a melodramatic death scene, appearing pierced by three enormous arrows.

Slava's Snowshow
Company Members (Photo: Veronique Vial)

And when a drastically tilted table and chair are set on the stage, well, it's a guarantee that hilarity will ensue.

Aside from staging the show, Polunin is co-credited (with Viktor Plotnikov) for scenography, which one might assume to include all design elements, as no other artists are credited. They include a beautifully placid arrangement of shapes and tones that might lull you into daydreams before jarring you with chilling intimidation.

Those sitting in the balcony may feel excluded from some of the fun, particularly when the gang starts walking through the house on arm rests and chair backs, performing all sorts of abuse on willing targets. Arachnophobes sitting in the orchestra section might feel some discomfort at the bit that closes the first act, but everyone seems to be having a blast after curtain calls, when an assortment of large inflated balls, including a few enormous globes, are released into the crowd for everyone to bat about. After making us laugh all night, this is the company's turn to be amused by us.

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From This Author Michael Dale