There’s a reason that “Snowflake,” Gale LaJoye’s hourlong, wordless clown show, has had such staying power. Created from scraps and cast-offs in the scene shop at Children’s Theatre more than 25 years ago, the production offers a fetching array of inventiveness and creativity as it gives us an endearing glimpse into the life of a vagabond.
In “Snowflake,” which opened Friday at Children’s Theatre, master clown LaJoye humanizes a junkyard character who occasionally screws up his face. Snowflake makes his bed in a chockablock alley where people drive by and throw trash (he sometimes throws it back). The action takes place under an idyllic billboard advertising an image of family life that he acutely lacks. But Snowflake finds entertainment among the discarded objects that he transforms and repurposes.
He makes a banged-up suitcase into a frolicsome dog. The blade of a fan becomes a propeller that seems to take on a mind of its own. Almost by magic, the front end of a VW Beetle becomes a glinting shelter.
Snowflake also finds companionship, in the form of a puppet that the actor animates with touching emotion. When the puppet looks up a the billboard with its baleful eye, we feel its hurt and longing.
Surprisingly, “Snowflake” is neither dull nor tiring. The show holds our attention for its duration as LaJoye uses myriad ways to entertain himself, and us. Snowflake finds a pair of skis and does a ski dance, call it a ski ballet, that seems pretty effortless. He sometimes looks like he is performing an optical illusion as he glides and pirouettes in slow motion.
The show uses a battery of clown tricks, but they serve a larger narrative about a simple character settling down for the evening to get some rest. It’s a slice of life that we do not often see onstage, and it is cleanly told, despite the milieu.
My companions, daughters aged 17 and 12, are above the target age for this show, but they were impressed by the acting, and by LaJoye’s ability to sustain it. Still, the younger one wished that “Snowflake” showed more of the struggle of being homeless. The teenager, meanwhile, wondered aloud if this piece exploited the character of a homeless person without challenging the status quo.
Their parents, meanwhile, smiled at the sheer mastery of it all, dings and all.