KPBS AIRDATE: MAY 16, 1991
For me, it could’ve been called “The Snowflake,” because it was light and delicate, lacy and lovely, but it melted away into nothingness the minute you tried to touch it — or let it touch you.
“The Snow Ball” is a beautiful collaboration — between the Old Globe Theatre and the Hartford Stage Company. It’s a lavish production, lovingly directed by Jack O’Brien. The look is gossamer; snow falling outside a huge free-standing window, strongly suggestive of an old downtown Buffalo building. (And I know; I once lived there.) The lighting is dim, dappled with romantic shadows. The choreography, by the ever-creative Graciela Daniele, is absolutely floats. A wide marble staircase winds upward out of sight, as if something even more romantic or thrilling were happening up above.
But neither the staircase nor the play ultimately delivers. What you see is all you get. It’s pretty all right, but emotionally, there’s no one home.
This is the biggest piece Pete Gurney has ever written. And though, like most of his others, it deals with the American WASP experience, what it gains in size and supposed scope, it loses in intimacy.
In “The Cocktail Hour” and surely, in “Love Letters,” for example, Gurney gave us real emotional moments, something to respond to, to choke up about. But here, it’s all in the look, and while that part of the production succeeds marvelously, it isn’t a satisfying theatrical encounter.
We are confronted with the issues of middle-aging, trying to turn back the clock, attempting to re-create an unforgettable experience. Cooper Jones, a fading realtor, and Lucy Dunbar, a full-bred upper-crust WASP who now works in a bookstore, make elaborate plans to reunite their old chums and everyone’s favorite dancing couple, for one last Snow Ball, the annual cotillion of their youth.
Along the way, they fall into nostalgic reveries — and into bed; they stage a generally successful event, the favorite couple still dances well, though alas, she’s terminally ill. In the end, everyone returns to his or her place and sits back down, just as they were told to do at Van Dam’s Dancing School years ago. A little tattered and frayed, perhaps, but everyone sits back down.
So what’s the message? You can go home again — sort of? There’s a universal in these particulars, somewhere, but it just didn’t strike any deep, resonant chords for me. The melody, to extend the metaphor, didn’t linger on.
But I liked watching it all, especially Christopher Wells and Susan J. Coon as the Young Jack and Kitty, who barely touched the expansive parquet floor, making ballroom dancing look like effortless, silent, glider-plane flight.
The stable of Globe regulars — Katherine McGrath, Kandis Chappell, and Tom Lacy — wrapped themselves warmly, as usual, in their roles. And Deborah Taylor put in a luscious little cameo performance.
I wanted to be swept away, though. And I was barely moved. Maybe it’s an age thing. Those slightly and significantly older than I seemed to eat it up. That doesn’t mean I’m giving my age away on the air, but if nostalgia is your cup of Postum, then waltz on over to the Old Globe.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.