A Snowfall in Berlin is a full-length play without intermission for four women and two men who are always present on the unit set. A table and some chairs, a tub, and a few steps and platforms represent various locations in New York City in the present and Berlin some years earlier. In darkness we hear a piano playing a Chopin Prelude, then other instruments playing snatches of Beethoven, Bach, and Vivaldi with pianos, violins, cellos, French horns, human voices singing Verdi and Puccini all climaxing with the sound of a piano being chopped up by an ax. Then, after a silence, we hear the whirring sound of an old film projector as flickering lights come up on Natasha, center. Emilia is at a table DR playing solitaire and Coates is typing on a laptop, drinking. Rosa is UR in the tub; Megan is sitting on the steps UL, and Mulligan is standing DL looking at Natasha. The skittering sound of the film modulates into a distant subway clatter and the lights stop flickering. Natasha says it was snowing the night “she” died, and we hear the sound of water dripping, then the sound of a subway train passing. Natasha speaks of patterns and mistakes, and Mulligan says that the dead girl, drowned in the bathtub, had taken some sleeping pills and might have lost consciousness or might have intended to end her life. The four other characters interject lines as in an imagist poem, thematically but not logically related to the dialogue. Mulligan supposes that Natasha will be shutting down production on the movie she’s directing, but she intends to keep working on the project. She tells the detective she found Rosa dead in the tub. Rosa, like the other characters, speaks lines that help to create a humorous, informative, and poetic vocal montage. Natasha says that Rosa had trouble sleeping and Megan says that she spoke with Rosa on the phone and, in a flashback, the two women recreate their conversation, interrupted by Coates and then by Natasha calling, “CUT.”
Mulligan asks Megan who the Valentina was that Rosa was talking about and Emilia asks the detective if he would like some wieners, pointing out the line in the script to Natasha. She says she didn’t write that line and Coates, who says he is writing the script, denies he wrote that line. He says that Rosa was having emotional problems and that he was having a relationship with her. Rosa says she grew up in foster homes and went to New York to be an actress but couldn’t get a part because she had blond hair and a Spanish accent. When she cried in a restaurant because she couldn’t pay her bill, Natasha saw her and gave her a part in the movie and a place to stay. Mulligan tells Natasha that his daughter won’t communicate with him and he doesn’t know why. Megan, as a waitress, tells Mulligan that he has fallen in love with Rosa like the detective in the movie fell in love with Laura. She says “these people” killed Rosa and he should make them pay but not until they’re done shooting.
Coates confides in Mulligan that he has started to lose his British accent and that American movies are “the most worthless idiotic excrement on the face of the earth.” He says he is making a movie because he couldn’t resist Natasha and he warns Mulligan about her. Mulligan says they are making a film about a girl who dies in a bathtub and that same girl actually died in a bathtub. Coates says the idea was Natasha’s; she says it was his. But no one has any idea of how the movie was supposed to turn out. Emilia says that’s why she drinks and tells Natasha that she picked her up out of the gutter when Natasha was nothing. Emilia moves to a corner to brood and Mulligan follows her as Natasha sits upstage as if at the base of a wall. Mulligan points out to Emilia that the actors are all from different countries, and Emilia agrees that they are all exiles, orphans, who have been mothered by Natasha. She tells Mulligan she found Natasha on a snowy night in Berlin, and she and Natasha recreate what they said to each other. Emilia says she took Natasha home with her and they’ve been together ever since. Gradually, she says, Natasha took over directing the film that Emilia had been directing and Emilia has been her assistant ever since.
Natasha describes how she got lost in Berlin and climbed a dark staircase to the upper floors where there was a music conservatory. We hear the cacophony of instruments we heard at the beginning of the play as Natasha describes them and then we hear the sound of an ax chopping a piano to pieces, then silence. Mulligan tells her she rescued Rosa the way that Emilia had rescued her. Coates describes his version of the German director Fritz Lang escaping from the Nazis and coming to Hollywood where he learns that the only rule is to always take the money. But, Coates says, the rumor is that before he left Berlin Lang drowned his wife in a bathtub. Rosa tells Coates that she saw him with Megan, and Megan says she felt sorry for him. Coates tells Natasha he is playing the villain because that’s the part she wrote for him. He says he sleeps with Rosa because Natasha won’t sleep with him, but if she did he would betray her. She says she will kill him if he touches Rosa again. Coates says she is more likely to kill Rosa.
Emilia tells Natasha that she is hurting Rosa, that she is really a sadist, that something inside her worships pain, and that she treats people like she was editing a film, throwing out what she can’t use. Megan tells Rosa that she allows herself to be violated by a pig like Coates because she is looking for a father. Natasha speaks of being a child with a father who repaired clocks and a mother who was never the same after she gave birth to Natasha. Emilia says she compulsively works the same material again and again, and Natasha says a work of art is a product of the impulse to shape and the desire to just see what happens.
Rosa asks Mulligan why he watches her so much and he says he is trying to figure out how she died. Megan tells Mulligan that Rosa, afraid of a thunderstorm, mistakenly wandered into Natasha’s room. Natasha was having a nightmare, speaking in Russian, and repeating the name Valentina. Mulligan asks Rosa who kllled her. “Valentina,” she replies. When Mulligan tells Natasha he is looking for the truth, she says he is inventing a story, a hypothetical construction, which is a lie. She says that they are replacing him, recasting the role of the police detective. She tells him that she found Rosa, half naked, on a couch with Coates the day before she died. She says she told Rosa to stay away from him and that they had a difficult time on the set the next day. Rosa went home to rest and Natasha came back and found her dead. Mulligan says she is lying and she admits she was there twice. When she left the first time Rosa was alive.
Rosa says she wants to leave the film and Natasha massages her shoulders. Rosa says she is horribly lonely and Natasha tells her that Coates is poison, polluting her soul. Rosa says that an older girl in one of the foster homes she grew up in would give her massages and kissed her once. That, she says, is the only time in her life when she was completely happy. Natasha puts her hand on Rosa’s cheek and tells her no one will hurt her because she will not let that happen, but Rosa needs to come back to the movie. Rosa puts her hand on Natasha’s cheek and kisses her as Emilia enters, accusing Natasha of molesting Rosa. Emilia says Natasha is only alive because Emilia rescued her from starving and freezing to death. She says she has loved Natasha so much, and Natasha says she can’t love Emilia the way she wants her to, that she can’t love anybody because something has died in her.
Natasha tells Mulligan that she went after Emilia but couldn’t find her and when she came back she found Rosa dead. Mulligan says she is leaving something out and asks about Valentina. Natasha says she had a daughter that she named Valentina after her own mother. Natasha says that after her mother died and her father started drinking she went a bit wild and became a very promiscuous teenager. She says she didn’t know or care who the father of her child was, only that she had someone to love. When her father in a drunken rage destroyed the piano with an ax she knew she had to leave with her child. She tells Mulligan that she left her child sleeping in her cradle while she went to pick up her passport. Her father found out that she was planning to leave and when Natasha returned she found her child drowned in the tub. She screamed at her father to call an ambulance but he just told her that now she knew what it feels like to lose everything you love. She says she picked up an iron and hit him in the head, many times, then gathered her child in a blanket and took her to the hospital, but the child was dead. Natasha says she doesn’t know if her father is living or dead and doesn’t care. She got on a plane and went to Berlin but there was no work, no money, no food. She went to the music conservatory and heard the sounds of the jumbled music and her father chopping up the piano and she sat down with her back against a wall and wanted to die. She tells Mulligan that Emilia saved her but that when she looked into Rosa’s eyes she saw the face of her child and wanted to save her. Mulligan suggests that when Rosa wanted to leave Natasha drowned her as her father had drowned her child. Natasha says she came back and found Rosa dead in the tub, like her child all over again. She says Emilia found her and comforted her until the ambulance and police arrived. Mulligan asks who else knew about Natasha’s child, and Natasha says that the night Emilia rescued her and they were cuddled in bed together for warmth she told her and cried. Natasha looks across the stage and sees Emilia standing behind the tub looking at Rosa. “Oh, my god,” Natasha says.
Rosa tells Emilia that Natasha has gone out to look for her and says she is sorry about everything. Emilia puts her hands on Rosa’s shoulders and tells her to go to sleep. Gradually, the flickering of lights increases, and we hear the sound of film moving through a projector. Emilia and Natasha speak disconnected but thematically related lines as we hear the sound of film flying off the end of the reel and flapping. Emilia tells Rosa that Natasha can never hurt her again the way she hurts everybody. She says that when Natasha returns she will find a nice surprise and Emilia will comfort her. She slowly pushes Rosa down into the water as the light fades and goes out. In darkness we hear the sound of the Chopin Prelude.