Snowflake creates human-scale magic

April 15, 2005

By Liz Nicholls
Edmonton Journal

There are few things in life more promising than the double occupancy of the stage by a premium clown and bubble wrap.

It is only a matter of time till a tap dancer is born: spontaneous vaudeville, improvised 42nd Street.

You can see the mental gears whir and mesh as Snowflake, silent title tramp of Gale LaJoye's superlative solo show, casts himself in scene after scene, picks the detritus from other people's lives, and gets inspired to reinvent himself.

Busted fans, ancient venetian blinds, unstrung rackets, an abandoned crutch, a skeletal umbrella…Snowflake, which first played Edmonton at a Kids' Fest in the '90s, takes us backstage in our culture, in a sense. The playful Snowflake is a street person whose world is a junkyard and whose world view is the infinite possibilities in other peoples cast-offs. Poverty is apparently the mother of invention. It's a show full of props. It is also, in a more philosophical sense, a show about props, and human ingenuity and the need that go into investing them with meaning.

It there is a musical comedy potential when a clown eyes a derelict rubber boot, say, or frilly bathroom curtains, there is also pathos potential. It's a lonely life after all.

We hear traffic noises from the world outside the fence; we see garbage casually tossed into Snowflake's home. A beautifully executed scene in which Snowflake animates his own ragtag parks as a sort of surrogate parent for himself to be cozy with is a delicate mixture of one part funny to nine parts sad. When he discovers a discarded puppet, a boy of melancholy aspect, Snowflake will be the adoptive parent, trying to console and amuse. Fun is what you make yourself. Home is the collage of improvised comforts you can cobble together as a custom-made fortress to ward off the rampaging of the world.

At his most hilarious, Snowflake does an entire ballet on skis, a ragtag Sugar Plum Fairy magically twirling or balancing on a tip or a skateboard. The apparently improvised choreography of teetering near-misses is an illusion. The reality is extreme artfulness.

When you're wrestling tidings of comfort and joy from the forlorn, you're playing chin-up Broadway resourcefulness off against pathos, of coarse. Michigan-based LaJoye, who's toured the show for dozens of years, negotiates that tightrope with immense skill. The plinky-plunk sentimental music that telegraphs and underscores "sad" moments is a lot less delicate than the performer. In fact, the music is unnecessarily obtrusive throughout.

That's a cavil, though, in a show where a clown blows a feather in the air, reads the paper while it floats in the light, then scoots across the stage on a skateboard to retrieve it before it lands. That's human-scale magic, and it makes you smile.