Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Snowstorm—CoHo Productions—NW Portland



People of Many Facades

The show is produced with Many Hats and written and music direction by Eric Nordin.  It is directed and choreographed by Jessica Wallenfels.  It will be playing at the CoHo space, 2257 NW Raleigh St., through February 7th.  For more information, go to their site at www.cohoproductions.org or call 503-220-2646.

Although a lover of classical music, I was not really very familiar with Rachmaninoff.  To see this very Russian story, set to music and movement, was really quite a treat.  But the presentation defies a specific genre, not necessarily bad, but just means you are going to see something that will not fit well into any specific bag of knowledge of yours.

It has elements of Peter and the Wolf, The Good Doctor, Into The Woods and a touch of Noh theatre, a dash of ballet & interpretive dance/movement, mime, masks, acrobatics, a hint of silent movies, and a whole lot of classical music.  It covers the span of the imaginative, innocent childhood, to death and rebirth.  But, instead of going “into the woods” to discover adulthood, one must survive the conflicting snowstorm in order to move forward in life.

The story takes place in Russia around the 1900’s.  Much of it is set in the home of Dmitri Volkov (Chris Harder), a munitions businessman, his imaginative, young son, Pavel (Elisha Henig) and the boy’s wise tutor, Nicolai (Brian Demar Jones).  Other characters involved with these lives are Anna (Jamie M. Rea), a lady of the elite in love with a lowly gypsy, Sergei (Matthew Kerrigan) and Yuri (Garland Lyons), a friend of the family.  And, of course, there are the other gypsies themselves (Beth Thompson and Kira Batcheller).

The story basically follows Dmitri and his son, and the strained relationship and Anna and her tragic love affair with Sergei.  Into this mix, though, is a child’s view of the adult world, as he dons a mask and become a fox, his father, a wolf, Anna, a swan, the gypsy ladies, a bear and a hen, and his tutor, a hawk.  These transformations enable the boy to see the complex adult world and relationships in a more understandable way.  It follows, perhaps, Shakespeare assertion that “all the world’s a stage and the men and women, merely players….”

But let this “insubstantial vision” fade from your minds and find the real magic in the music and movement in the presentation of the piece.  Most of the story is performed to music and the actors sway with the interpretation of the classical motifs.  Wallenfels as the choreographer/director has done an amazing job of marrying the emotion and movement of the actors with Nordin’s playing of the music on the piano.  They both should be commended for allowing us to participate in this extraordinary event.  It is one for the Ages!

My own special moments of these captivating events were “The Snowstorm” dance sequence, very moving and well conceived.  And the “Ice Dancing” scene, which was so realistic I wasn’t sure that if I walked across the stage I wouldn’t slip on the icy pond.  Also, beautifully done.  And the actors were all very multi-talented, having to master mime, mask, and movement, as well as presenting credible acting in the characters they portray.  And the young boy who was the son, Henig, should be proud of his achievements, as he was able to match his elders every step of the way in both acting and movement.

This is a unique opportunity in theatre and one that probably will not be duplicated in this form anywhere else.  It may defy connecting to any one genre but, instead, has created its own.  And is that not what brave innovators, like Disney, Tesla, Mozart, Hawking, et. al. always do, take the first step in creating a whole new way of looking at things?  My (many) hats off to them!

Obviously, I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.