Montclair State University’s department of theatre and dance assembled to perform their first gig of the year, “Black Snow,” on Saturday, Oct. 15 inside Alexander Kasser Theater.
Debbie Saivetz, the director of “Black Snow” and a professor in the department, explained “Black Snow” is based on the Russian novelist and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov’s real-life experiences at the famous Moscow Art Theatre during the 1920s and 1930s.
“The play centers around the character of Sergei Leontievich Maxudov, a writer who fails to publish his novel but is then invited to adapt that novel for the stage,” Saivetz said. “When the Independent Theatre decides to produce Sergei’s play, literary success beckons, but he is not prepared to reckon with the grotesquely inflated egos of the actors, directors and theatre managers.”
As the opening approached, colleagues, friends and family members swiftly took their seats, eagerly waiting to see the actors and actresses grace the stage. As they talked and laughed amongst themselves, the lights began to slowly simmer down and you could hear a pin drop.
Within seconds, the audience’s ears were met with the intense sound of a raging storm, and there at center stage stood Sergei ready to end it all with a noose.
I wouldn’t let the dark opening scene fool you. Even though “Black Snow” deals with triggering topics, both physically and verbally, it’s done in an extremely comedic fashion.
I don’t think there was one moment where I wasn’t cackling to the point my stomach hurt, and that’s thanks to the leading man, Alex Eilen, a sophomore acting major. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say Eilen gave a remarkable performance. He elegantly yet passionately narrated Sergei’s chaotic journey while performing the actual scenes.
Every line from facial expression to body movement made the two-hour and 20-minute show immensely captivating.
And although Eilen led the pack, it was hard to forget about the other top-notch cast members that truly brought the whole production together and brought a smile to the audience’s faces.
Whether that was loudly snoring, smacking one with a cane, performing a risky tango, trying to ride a bike or making indescribable body movements, the entire cast left it all out on that stage.
Leading up to this extraordinary performance wasn’t always an easy road, though, according to Eilen.
“There were definitely challenges, like the intensity of the rehearsal schedule,” Eilen said. “All of our department productions rehearse for four hours a day, Monday through Friday, and we started our rehearsals the first ‘real’ week of classes. It’s a huge time commitment on top of classes and everything else.”
Eilen further stated that Sergei’s constant dialogue proved to be quite the headache.
“Another challenge I faced was learning all of my lines,” Eilen said. “Sergei really doesn’t stop talking for the entire play, so it was definitely a daunting task.”
Also worth noting is the extreme concentration, discipline and physical stamina each cast member possessed.
“There were a lot of moving parts to the show,” Saivetz said. “There were many scenes and transitions that had to be executed quickly and smoothly. And the cast of 17 actors played close to 100 different characters.”
If that’s not impeccable, I don’t know what is.
Besides the Tony Award-worthy winning performances, “Black Snow” most certainly excelled in the overall design, including the actual set, vibrant costumes, fitting music choices, sharp sound effects and exceptional lighting.
From glass shattering and snowflakes descending to gleaming light imitating the sun, everything felt strangely real.
One of the assistant set designers, sophomore theatre: design, technology and management major Valentina Cannao, explained that during the 1920s and 1930s, there was a lot of constructivist architecture in Russia.
“Everything was very blunt and kind of in your face because of communism and the revolution,” Cannao said. “So, a lot of what we did was very brutalist to contrast the costumes, which were very colorful and nice.”
Sofia Dietze, who’s also a sophomore theatre: design, technology and management major, was sitting front row and happened to have special access as she was the assistant costume designer.
“I got to work with a professional designer, so it was really cool getting to know his ways of designing a show,” Dietze said. “In the beginning, we were trying to have no color really, but then throughout the show, we wanted to add more color to truly showcase the theatre world.”
There’s no doubt everyone involved in this production did an incredible job to create such an intense, scary and comedic world. It’s a show that will raise many questions, but that’s what makes it unique.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you still have a chance to purchase tickets. So if I were you, don’t walk – run!