THE SNOW PALACE, SummerNITE, at the Theatre Building. Polish playwright Stanislawa Przybyszewska wrote only three plays in her short life–she was 34 when she died in 1935–but her place in European theater has been assured by The Danton Case, an epic five-act study of French leader Georges Danton and the Reign of Terror.
In 1986 prolific British playwright Pam Gems wrote an English adaptation of Przybyszewska’s drama, then followed it up with The Snow Palace, a biography of sorts of the playwright and the pain she endured–she was a morphine addict living in poverty–writing her masterpiece. But like Gems’s musical bio Piaf, this play feels more than a little slapped together. Some scenes work remarkably well, especially those showing the playwright at work, standing onstage with Danton and Robespierre, laboriously crafting their lines. But for every graceful moment there are three that seem forced or ring hollow. The first act ends, for example, with a melodramatic sequence in which Przybyszewska is raped–or hallucinates she’s raped–by her father.
Nick Bowling’s cast pulls out all the stops to make this U.S. premiere of the work dramatic. Hanna Dworkin (best known for her star turns with Famous Door) just about blows a gasket giving Przybyszewska a third dimension. Likewise Mark L. Montgomery and Justin Ivie give their all to Danton and Saint-Just. But it isn’t enough. Like too many Gems plays, The Snow Palace ends long before the final curtain. –Jack Helbig