Chicago Theatre Review
The Sound of Silence
Snowflake – Chicago Childrens Theatre
No one would ever know from watching Gale LaJoye perform his one-man theatrical piece, that this hardworking, dedicated actor was once paralyzed. Like Elphaba in “Wicked,” the agile Thespian seems to defy gravity, often suspended above the stage floor in a silent performance of poetic beauty and humor. Save for a recorded New Age musical soundtrack, and a movement from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” the only words uttered comes from an unseen person calling out to the character, “Hey, Snowflake!”
The story is slight, but profoundly moving. It’s about a homeless man who lives behind the walls of the city dump, a domicile that’s watched over by an insurance advertisement on a billboard that depicts a typical happy American family. Following a long day of trash collecting, the poor man is challenged to simply return to his digs because the gate has become barred by an obstinate two-by-four.
Once inside, with childlike glee Snowflake enjoys the treasures that others have discarded and are now in his possession. It’s only when he discovers a forsaken, child-size puppet that someone threw away that Snowflake finds a new goal worthy of his energy. The puppet is frowning and seems very sad, so the gentle giant sets out to do everything in his power to bring a smile to the face of his little friend. Employing all sorts rubbish and refuse as props, Snowflake entertains his little friend, performing a ballet on skis, playing tennis with floating feathers, performing music on a saw, and other stunts and capers. He even creates a dog out of odds and ends to amuse the little guy, but he eventually ends up gently and lovingly putting the little puppet to bed in his creative, makeshift bedroom. He then completes his evening ablutions, retires himself and turns off the lights.
Mr. LaJoye is a fighter and a skilled artist. He’s an observer of the human condition, a master of pantomime, Kabuki Theatre and, having trained with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, aerial work and clowning. In 1979 Gale was involved in an auto accident that left him paralyzed. Doctors predicted that the man would never walk again, let alone perform; but he defied all odds by rebuilding his body and developing a new silent performance piece called “Too Foolish for Words.” This production was followed “Snowflake,” which has been enjoyed by audiences all over the world and employs all of LaJoye’s many skills. His character is reminiscent of Red Skelton’s popular voiceless vagabond character, Freddie the Freeloader, and Emmett Kelly’s classic hobo clown, Weary Willie.
Whether delightfully cavorting among the snowy lightness of some downy feathers, creating music on his bed’s makeshift headboard or tenderly nurturing and giving his love to a sad puppet child, Mr. LaJoye has turned his artistry into a beautiful, silent story for all ages. The problem is that, for very young children, 60 minutes of nonverbal entertainment, no matter how clever, starts to wear thin. Kids in this country are used to sound, especially spoken dialogue. Without words, many children can’t anchor themselves to a story for any length of time. Sharing a wordless picture book with young children produces the same effect: they think they need a running narrative provided by an adult in order to fully understand what’s going on. During this performance, audiences could hear little voices asking, “Why doesn’t he talk?” or “When is this going to be over?” It’s unfortunate, but this is our culture.
For older children and their savvy parents, however, Gale LaJoye has created a show filled with merriment and wonder. His latest theatrical piece not only celebrates the art of Marcel Marceau and Charlie Chaplin, it tells a beautifully poetic and tender story, laced with gentle humor, of a lonely old man who shares his love and meager possessions with a sad puppet child. In doing so, Mr. LaJoye’s virtuosity and artistry shouts loudly amid the sound of silence.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
turn sorrow into joy.
Presented January 27-February 14 by Chicago Children’s Theatre at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 877-222-9555 or by going to www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com