by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move ~
“I don’t know what’s the matter with these people. I think, first of all, they’re disappointed that I’m alive. They must have come here expecting to see me in a movie. I guess all they’re used to is sitcoms. Anyway what can you expect? There’s a Billy Graham center down the road from wherever the hell this is. Where am I?” ~Shelly Winters
In 1985, Shelley Winters staged a pair of one-act plays called Epiphany and the Snow Angel. The production was pasted by bad reviews and its run (in the Chicago suburb of Oakbrook Terrace) was soon aborted. During the intermission of one of the shows, a disgruntled patron passed around a petition reading: “If you think this is the worst play you ever saw in your life, please sign.” Sixty-one signatures quickly appeared.
Notwithstanding the amusing anecdotes about plays mostly gone by the wayside, Studio C’s hour long adaptation of Lewis John Carlino’s (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Mechanic and The Great Santini ) drama about a worn-out hooker named Connie (Ida Darvish) and a lonely John (Evan McNamara) is an outrageously, over-the-top, bawdy, melo-drama that actually holds more than just a few shreds of recognizable truths. (And unlike the scenario in 1985 does NOT disappoint.)
Not for the faint of heart or delicate ears, SnowAngel showcases the volcanic histrionics of Ms. Darvish, a Anna Magnani style, whirling dervish of sorts, who dances, dresses up, drinks and dramatizes for McNamara (John) as he attempts to relive the “sacred” moments of a failed relationship that he cannot let go of.
During the course of their 4:00am to 6:00am encounter, however, as John tries to force his re-creations onto Connie, sometimes softly but mostly abusively and at one point, violently, she fiercely rebels.
“I am not her! I’m me! I’m me!”
A seeming pathetic sad case, Connie, nevertheless is one “tough cookie.” As played by Ms. Darvish, she is a product of brotherly incest, utter neglect, and a victim of the Social Services system who eventually becomes homeless living on the street. It is now many years later, where in a twisted ironic turn, her brother has found her, and has taken her in as one of his prostitutes. She is loud, affected, strategically playful, even organized and puts on a great show of fearlessness. She is not vulnerable to emotions as other women are, but there is an underlying softness. She doesn’t yearn for things. She is accepting of her life and mostly doesn’t complain, except for lack of sleep.
John is a man living in delusion. Unwilling to accept the loss of what he feels was his one “perfect” love, he is a man suppressing incredible anger, hiding on the emotional fringe of life. He features himself as highly intelligent. He is not generous. And he is deliberately complicated as Connie astutely accuses him of being while they act out his first meeting scenario at a museum. He doesn’t say things “simple.”
There were times during the earlier part of this production where I thought I saw minor elements of John Genet’s, The Balcony, where no sex actually occurs. Instead the encounters are about power and leverage of the ego. Along with obtaining momentarily purchased affection, these are some of the things that John wants to satisfy with this illusion.
Where Connie swears she never falls in love. John is so desperate for it (love, affection) that he directs his play from a well crafted journal.
Mr. McNamara occasionally appears “dry” compared to Ms. Darvish’s non-stop rants and often the play feels unbalanced by their completely different personalities onstage. He is an intelligent actor working through the suppressed feelings of an intelligent man and it seems to make his work more difficult. He is not unsuccessful, simply overshadowed by the power of what Ms. Darvish is capable of registering (all the way to the West Side and back, frankly!) What resonates however, is the base fact that there needs to be a give and take in any relationship. Both parties have needs that go mostly unfulfilled.
It is easy to see, during the 1985 Shelley Winters version of this play, given the writing and the similar style of acting of Ms. Winters (hence her very “Connie-like” response to the reviews) to Ms. Darvish, why audiences would have not understood the honesty of these two people. Connie is near unbelievably outlandish, almost a caricature of herself. But she is definitely real. And modern audiences sense that even through her intemperance. John, on the other hand is so insensibly pulled back in emotion and reality. In their very juxtaposed ways, both are a result of deep hurt that needs healing – which we do see in some form at the end of the evening, at least a beginning of one.
I was told that some of the original text had been removed from this script for this production. Hence why I maybe felt a need for “more.” But it is a steady performance front to back and there are some wonderfully poignant moments that do not heavily lean on the audience.