Sketch after sketch in Slava Polunin’s show is permeated with a melancholy humor that makes you want to laugh and cry at once. Wearing his trademark big red nose and dirty yellow raincoat, the Russian clown enters pulling a thick rope. For a moment we think he must be walking a huge dog, but no–there’s nothing at the other end. A moment later he ties the rope into a noose and puts it around his neck. Meanwhile another clown enters and ties the other end of the same rope around his neck. The stage picture is amusing, but its implication is darkly hilarious: both suicidal clowns will live because each will keep the other from killing himself. Slava’s Snowshow invites comparison with Blue Man Group, whose imagery is at least as outrageous. But that show is very much a production by affluent people for affluent people, featuring buff, well-groomed performers. Polunin and his fellow clowns look like bums, wearing tattered clothes and misshapen hats as they grapple with such Beckettian subjects as death, loneliness, and the body’s slow decay. Like Chaplin, they try to maintain their dignity in a world determined to break them. Like Vladimir and Estragon, they must go on: in one sketch, Polunin rolls a huge ball, probably larger than Sisyphus’s boulder, across the stage. But something about the show’s fatalistic context makes these futile adventures both poignant and exquisitely comical. Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, Chicago, 312-443-1130 or 312-902-1500. Through May 2: Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 and 5:30 PM. $39.50-$49.50.