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Stormfield Theatre Company
and Pegasus Players
There are two really important lines in Snow: “Long live the revolution!” (delivered by Lenin, usually while standing on a table) and “But it was already [pause] too late” (Trotsky, in an aside to the audience). I know these lines are important because they’re repeated so often. I might even point out a third line–Stalin’s “All power to the state!”–but since you hear this slightly less than a dozen times, it’s probably not as significant. And that pretty much sums it all up. Add another several thousand lines, and stretch out this meaningless pastiche to over two and a half hours, and you have John Logan’s new play, Snow.
Sure, you could examine the Russian Revolution in far greater depth, and save yourself hours of tedium, if only Classic Comics had published an edition on it. Or you could, perish the thought, make a trip to the library. But let’s assume that you’re not that sort of person. You like being informed by people who aren’t. You like simplistic generalizations, especially when they’re spiced with endless redundancy and served up in such a way as to mimic a cultural event. OK then, go for it. This cud’s for chew.
It all starts out in Mexico in 1940, with Trotsky’s assassination. Then, with the ice ax poised and ready to penetrate his skull, Trotsky is propelled back in time to 1918. From this point on, until his inevitable return to that opening scene, Trotsky free-lances through time, sometimes a participant, sometimes a suspended observer, and meanwhile our narrator and tour guide. So off we go with Trotsky, backward and forward in time, rarely for a purpose, sampling a quarter century of history that is about as genuinely Russian as Kraft Russian dressing.
Let’s visit some high points. One of my favorites is the meeting of the provisional government. There are about a dozen actors, dressed in earth tones, gathered about a table, with the principal characters prominently displayed. Everyone is arguing, refusing to compromise, that sort of thing. The extras are mumbling something that sounds like “peas and carrots” to give the scene that special ring of authenticity. Clearly, Russia is in chaos. The people are starving, no doubt cut off from the peas and carrots so hotly debated by the provos. Then, Lenin appears atop a huge box rolled onstage from the wings. He tells a story about a starved child. “Long live the revolution!” So much for 1917. Let’s not beat it to death.
No, wait, we forgot to storm the Winter Palace. Well, we’ll get back to it. Now cut to a pastoral scene where two of the Romanov daughters rake the white marbleized stage floor in “a small village in the Urals.” They are so pathetic, these precious victims of the revolution. And, as a red soldier orders them back indoors at the end of the day, one of the girls (I’ve lost track which) begs to linger awhile: “Don’t you think we miss the twilight?” Whether that makes you want to choke back a sob or spit up a hair ball, you got to wonder. In light of all possible scenes contingent upon the Russian Revolution, why has playwright John Logan chosen to contrive this one?
Anyway, there’s lots more about the royal family, most of it about Czar Nicholas. Nicholas narrates his letters home from World War One, which, although it wasn’t explained how, had something to do with the revolution. (Trotsky, the intellectual, clears this all up with the insight, “The war was draining the lifeblood of Russia.”) Then there’s Alexi Romanov, a spunky little hemophiliac whom you’ll hope to see a lot less of. And there’s Czarina Alexandra, who has this undefined relationship with Rasputin. Rasputin! Trotsky is so enraged by the very sight of Rasputin that he denounces him to the audience. That made me curious about the relationship between Trotsky and Rasputin. But maybe it’s nothing personal. Maybe it’s something political that pisses Trotsky off. Maybe he doesn’t like Rasputin’s makeup. I don’t either. Rasputin looks like the twin brother of Tammy Faye Bakker. It’s scary, but Trotsky does his best to put it in perspective when he says, “All this was before we banished God.” So maybe we don’t know what’s going on here, but at least we have it in historical context.
Don’t miss, however, Rasputin’s telephone conversation with Alexandra, even if you have to set your wristwatch alarm to wake up for it. He has this vision, you see, all about blood, rivers of blood, Russia drowning in blood. And suddenly you get the picture that he’s not talking about little Alexi’s hemophilia anymore, and you remember that this play is about the Russian Revolution.
Well, there are more scenes than I care to mention here. There’s the mutiny at Petrograd, the storming of the Winter Palace, and lots of arguments between Trotsky and Stalin, with Lenin playing marriage counselor. Scenery is constantly rolling on and off, on those platforms that we used back in the university theater department. And Trotsky is always there, filling us in on what time of century it is, which nevertheless is “already [pause] too late.” And, yes, the people need bread, no matter what the political situation. And you kind of like Trotsky, you really do. He’s not a bad guy, this dime-store idealist. And even if you can’t stand him after a couple hours, you can still look forward with reasonable certainty to Trotsky getting back underneath the business end of that ice ax at the end of the play.
Jerry Bloom plays Trotsky as a professorial type. At least I think that’s what Bloom is aiming at, or maybe my impression is the result of all that footlight narration. Stalin (played by Gary Brichetto) is definitely a bad guy, no doubt about it, and he has a Boris Badenov accent to prove it. Lenin’s characterization (by Randy Colborn) stumps me. I never figured Lenin as such a twit. Colborn seems more like the produce manager at the A&P than the architect of the Russian Revolution. The czar’s a surprise too, sort of like Mr. Rogers, or Perry Como up after his bedtime. Thomas Carroll (as the czar) has all the makings of a truly absurd portrait; the only problem is that he doesn’t know it. And, of course, there’s Morgan McCabe as the czarina. McCabe’s performance is generic queen mother, but she holds up well under stress, like the time when the two-foot braid fell out of her hairdo and she just walked away from it.
The only really distinguished cast member is Miranda Daniloff, in a small role as Marie Romanov. Early on in Snow, there’s a scene where the Romanovs await execution. Everyone’s punching the scene with fits and stops, trying to jump-start some tension, while Daniloff drifts off to one side, distractedly performing a short dance step. No big deal, no upstaging; just an honest moment, a hint of potential drama.
Who cares about the Russian Revolution anyway? This play has a great set. No kidding. Sure, it’s a little on the symbolic side, what with the toppled Corinthian columns and the stark white open space. But Eve Cauley’s design has scale. It’s junked up with some tacky additions here and there, yet it has far more import and integrity than the script it serves. It looks like a play should have been put on there, a big play, sprawling and lavish with history, something like Les miserables or Evita. And perhaps there could have been a play there, had John Logan had something more definite than “something” on his mind when he sat down to write Snow.
“But it was already [pause] too late.”