BWW Reviews: Prepare to Be Dazzled by THE SNOWSTORM at CoHo Productions

By: Jan. 17, 2015

The story is simple. Russia, 1910. A widower with a young son is grieving his wife, who he lost in childbirth. The young boy, neglected by his father, indulges himself in a fantasy life involving animals. A young woman is still haunted by the fiance who failed to show up for their wedding. -Eventually they meet, and their lives become connected - or perhaps already are.

Sounds like a basic old-fashioned melodrama, yes? The Snowstorm is that, but it is also a phenomenal piece of theatre told primarily through music and movement. When the emotions become too large, the actors begin to move in time to the music of Rachmaninoff, and the story is played out in their movements. The piece is filled with warmth and humor, and you will find yourself deeply touched by it.

I will admit right here that I am ignorant of any dance more complicated than tap, and my understanding of ballet, modern dance, and other forms of theatrical movement is nil. I entered The Snowstorm with trepidation, thinking I'd be unable to follow the presentation. But director/choreographer Jessica Wallenfels does a brilliant job of telling us what the story is, showing us where to look, and taking us into the minds of the characters with just a simple change of lighting. The opening scene - where the little boy's fantasies take over during a concert in his father's parlor - had me worried, as the concertgoers put on animal masks and acted out a chase with the boy, who dressed as a wolf. But afterwards, we were introduced to the main characters, and we could put the dance into context.

The Snowstorm was created by Eric Nordin, who does a wonderful job of creating a story that we all can relate to, choosing just the right music to accompany the various scenes, fantasies, and flashbacks, and even stopping the music at times so we can pay attention to the story. And it's not all serious - a second-act ice-skating scene is hilarious and brilliant, as the widow and widower are forced to get closer in order to keep from falling down; Nordin and Wallenfels, along with the actors, create a funny, touching, and perfectly delivered scene. And by the way - Mr. Nordin also accompanies the play throughout, and his piano skills are as deft and delicate as his storytelling.

All of the actors have daunting assignments; they have to play the dramatic scenes, mime and dance their way through the less naturalistic moments, and several of them have multiple roles to play in addition to providing sound effects and moving furniture and props. I was especially impressed by Brian Demar Jones, who plays the young boy's caretaker (among other roles), and Matthew Kerrigan, who plays the ghost of the young woman's fiance with depth and feeling, yet also doubles as a gypsy street entertainer who plays the audience with skill. Kira Batcheller, Beth Thompson, and Garland Lyons are also excellent in a number of parts, and each gets multiple moments to display their talents.

As the widower, Chris Harder couldn't be better; he's stern and unyielding at the beginning, but he gradually melts, and he has some lovely moments throughout; when he finally smiles, it's like the sun breaking through, and you can't help smiling back. Jamie Rea is equally gifted as the young woman, serious and heartbroken in the present, antic and girlish in the past, and she and Kerrigan work extremely well together as the woman tries to break free of the memory of her lover. Rea and Harder partner each other quite nicely, especially in that ice-skating scene, but all of the cast members work well as a unit.

Special praise has to go to young Elisha Henig as the boy. This is a tricky play for any performer to pull off, but for one so young to play the emotional moments, handle a large quantity of dialogue, dance with a team of very experienced performers, and never look like a "stage kid" takes a great deal of talent. He is believable and genuine at every moment, and always comes across as a real boy who just wants his father's affection. He too has a smile that will melt your heart.

As always, the technical credits at CoHo are outstanding. The scenery by Alan E. Schwanke and Ted Jonathan Gold, lighting by Kaye Blankenship, costumes by Bobby Brewer-Wallin, and the animal masks by Tony Fuemmeler are all beautiful and effective.

The Snowstorm is an unusual piece of theater, no doubt, but I can't recommend it highly enough. You will be glad you saw it. You may even come out of the theater wanting to dance down the street. Nothing wrong with that at all.

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