Playwright Israel Horovitz was haunted by a story he heard in the 1990s about a man trapped in an Alaskan avalanche who spent his last moments alive talking to his wife on his cellphone.
“How do we say goodbye? How do we cope with loss?” Horovitz says.
The incident became the seed for Horovitz’s play, “Man in Snow,” which is having its world premiere at Gloucester Stage Company through Oct. 23.
“I originally wrote it as a 40-minute, two-character radio play for the BBC,” Horovitz says after rehearsal.
When a director included it as a staged reading in a festival, Horovitz says the reaction of the actors and the audience made him think about the possibility of a full-length play.
“I always start out thinking I know what I’m writing about,” says Horovitz, “and then suddenly I find myself going in a different direction. Since I first heard the story, I’ve returned to it several times, but it wasn’t until I added the man’s loss of his son that I really connected to it. I have five kids, and losing them is unthinkable. At it’s heart, the play explores the power of grief and the mysterious effect of the Northern Lights.”
Horovitz is also directing “Man in Snow” at Gloucester Stage, the company he cofounded in 1979 and where he served as artistic director until 2006. As he thought about staging the play, he realized he wouldn’t gain anything by depicting the avalanche.
“I started to get rid of scenery and props, and move away from any suggestion of a naturalistic setting,” he says. “What you’re left with is only emotion.”
The atmosphere, he says, relies on effective lighting, evocative original music, and the actors. For this production, Horovitz turned to a combination of Gloucester Stage veterans and new faces. Award-winning actor Will Lyman, who plays the trapped man, is making his Gloucester Stage Company debut, but Horovitz says Lyman came to New York for a workshop production so he is already rooted in the character. He surrounds Lyman with Paul O’Brien and Sandra Shipley, who have returned to Gloucester often over the years.
“It makes it easier for them to accept my schizophrenic personality [as both playwright and director],” Horovitz says with a laugh. “But I’m at home with these actors, because I feel I grew up with them.”
The cast also includes Francisco Solorzano, who appeared in Horovitz’s “Gloucester Blue” last year and worked on “Man in Snow” in New York as part of the Actors Studio Directors Unit, as well as Ron Nakahara and Ashley Risteen.
New works from new voices
The five productions from this year’s graduating class of Boston University MFA playwrights cover a wide range of dramatic topics, including: The controversy behind the young artist who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“Memorial,” Oct. 13-23); an Irish-American family drama (“Faithless,” Dec. 8-18); memories of Belfast at the height of Anglo-Irish tensions (“The Honey Trap,” Feb. 16-26, 2017); an attempt to unravel a 200-year-old mystery in the Arctic (“Franklin,” March 23-April 2, 2017); and the return of an ex-pat to her home in Ireland (“Every Piece of Me,” April 20-30, 2017).
All five plays will be produced as part of Boston Playwrights’ Theatre’s 35th season, starting Oct. 13. The sixth play of the season marks the return of Ronan Noone, who will present a new take on his one-person show, “The Atheist” (Jan. 19-Feb. 5, 2017). The play, which originally featured Campbell Scott, ran at the Huntington Theatre in 2007 before moving off-Broadway. This new version re-imagines “The Atheist” with a female in the lead role as a corrupt journalist, to be played by Georgia Lyman. Tickets: $10-$30, 866-811-4111, www.bostonplaywrights.org.
Taking a whack at the Bordens
That all-American Massachusetts family, the Bordens, gets another look when Imaginary Beasts presents a stage adaptation of Angela Carter’s potent short story, “The Fall River Axe Murders.” Using storytelling, puppetry, and movement, Imaginary Beasts adopts an ensemble approach to bring to life Carter’s exquisitely detailed imagining of the moments and the setting before the bloody murders took place. The play runs Oct. 1-22 at the Boston Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre. Tickets: $15-$24, 617-933-8600, bostontheatrescene.com.
‘Spamilton’ is a hot ticket, too
It was only a matter of time before Needham native Gerard Alessandrini, the creator of the hilarious “Forbidden Broadway,” turned his attention to the blockbuster “Hamilton.”
Alessandrini’s “Spamilton,” originally scheduled for an 18-performance run, has now been extended through Dec. 31 at the Triad Theatre in New York. In classic Alessandrini style, “Spamilton” celebrates and eviscerates Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, while placing it in a loving Broadway historical context.
“Spamilton” has a 10-cent ticket lottery, coined #Spam4Roosevelt, that’s modeled on the #Ham4Ham $10 ticket lottery (Franklin Roosevelt is on the dime, Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill). Participants may enter the lottery in person 30 minutes before that evening’s performance, and names are chosen at random by Alessandrini. Regularly priced tickets are $69, with a two-drink minimum (go to www.spamiltonnyc.com for details). Here’s hoping the show heads north soon.
MAN IN SNOW
Presented by Gloucester Stage Company, Gloucester, through Oct. 23. Tickets: $28-$38, 978-281-4433, www.gloucesterstage.com
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.