nytheatre.com review by Edward Elefterion
August 13, 2013
A scene from Blizzard '67
The press materials for Blizzard ’67 say that it’s about the way we respond to natural disasters and what those life-and-death choices tell us about ourselves. After seeing the opening performance, I’d have to agree…and disagree, which sums up my feeling about the entire experience. It was an interesting production but not very interesting.
Perhaps part of the reason for my ambivalence is that the natural disaster doesn’t happen until the very end of act one and act two doesn’t really engage the question that I think most interests playwright Jon Steinhagen, “How do I live now that I know I’m not who I thought I was?” It’s a great question, touching on identity, discovery, fate, responsibility, fear of oneself – but the play doesn’t actually explore any answers or probe any possible solutions to the dilemma. Just when the characters reach a point of dawning, of seeing themselves as something they never imagined…it stops short. The plot shifts into “summation” mode and the direct address, that is used (too?) frequently throughout, once again swoops, this time telling us how these men ended up.
The larger, more interesting plot (to me), is about the various responses to the news that one of the four carpoolers got a promotion…this is the bulk of act one. Here, the playwright more freely explores the question of “Why him, not me?” and lets the characters begin to answer this haunting question, learning about each other and themselves. But then they’re faced with the blizzard and what to do when they encounter a seemingly stranded motorist, and the play’s focus changes, abandoning the interesting dynamics built in act one. I suspect the blizzard is meant to embody the “natural disaster” of losing one’s place in life – much like not getting the promotion you think you deserve, but it actually undermines the momentum of the play, and what was an outward expression amongst a family of men became an internal brooding, stalling just at the critical moment, like the car that features so centrally in the plot.
Ironically, the design element that works the best is the one that isn’t credited: the set. Four chairs, two coat stands, and the occasional table serve nicely for the various locations. The ensemble uses them deftly and quite simply, inviting the audience to transform the space in a way that celebrates the power of theatre. Jennifer Linn Wilcox’s lighting does a fine job subtly shifting locations and Trevor Dallier’s sound is clever and simple, again inviting our imagination to connect the dots, which we are eager and happy to do. No costume designer is credited but, with a space that spare, costumes are king…and the design expressed the necessities: businessmen, blizzard.
Director Kevin P. Hale has wonderful collaborators in his four-man cast. William Franke, Graham Halstead, John Pieza, and Andrew David Rabensteine are a compelling quartet and the fact that the performance never veered into self-indulgence is due largely to their well-crafted performances. Director Kevin P. Hale knows how to shape and pace material in a theatrically expressive way, without calling attention to himself. The simplicity and clarity of the entire production is all to his credit.