A decade after the Vietnam War ended, playwright Stephen Metcalfe tried to tackle the plight of veterans from that war and the difficulties they had adjusting to life outside while battling the demons bubbling beneath the surface for so many of them.
Unfortunately, what he came up with in “Strange Snow,” is a superficial, hard to believe two hours that opened over the weekend at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
This show, under the direction of C. Michael Wright, is nothing more than a live version of an afternoon soap opera – shallow characters, incredible relationship development and vague points to be made.
And it’s really a shame because the cast of three very good actors and Mr. Wright and his design team all perform with admiration.
The problem is the play itself.
The play concerns two veterans, Davey (Marques Causey) and Megs (Ken T. Williams) along with Davey’s sister Martha (Krystal Drake).
Davey and Megs served in Vietnam together but haven’t seen each other in the post-war period until they meet, by chance in a parking lot. For Megs, it’s a chance for an important reunion and he convinces Davey to celebrate on the opening day of the fishing season.
He arrives before dawn, pounding on the front door while shouting for Davey to wake up. The door eventually is opened, by Martha, complete with a five-iron ready to take a full swing at Megs.
We’re okay, so far, but from that point on the play sinks into one imagination-stretching episode to another.
Let’s see if we can simplify this whole thing.
Megs is a garage mechanic who is boisterous and blunt, the most outlandish guy in the room. He is clearly desperate for some kind of human companionship and is firmly convinced that he and Davey can rekindle the camaraderie they had in their army unit.
Davey, on the other hand, wears his misery on his sleeve. His drinking is out of control and fueled by his anger and disappointment in what life has given him. He lives in the same house as his sister, a house given to them by a mother who deserted them to move to Florida (for a reason unknown).
Then there is Martha, the spinster schoolteacher who disapproves of her brother and his ignoble ways. She is lonely, angry and frightened of life.
In the span of one day here’s what happens.
Megs arrives. He convinced Martha he’s really a fairly nice guy. Davey wakes up. He doesn’t want to hang with Megs and certainly doesn’t want to go fishing. But Megs wins out, getting Martha to drink a breakfast beer and join the two guys in a quest for trout that they’ll have for dinner. They leave and then return, troutless. Martha and Megs look to grow a little friendlier. Davey and Megs get into a simmering and then blistering fight about their Vietnam days and the memory of the unseen (and killed) Bobby, who was a huge Boston Red Sox fan. Davey ends up leaving and Megs and Martha head upstairs (at her suggestion) to the bedroom.
And let the head shaking begin.Is this a war story (Megs and Davey), a love story (Megs and Martha) or a ghost story (Megs, Davey and Bobby)? The answer to that question is either all of the above or none of the above.
Part of the problem her is that Mr. Metcalfe has tried to put way too much into one day. There is no time for the play to breathe or to develop at a pace that provides for something more than superficial glimpses at these three characters. They might really be interesting people but this production doesn’t allow for seeing if they are.
Mr. Williams and Mr. Causey have distinguished resumes in Milwaukee theater and they live up to their experience and billing despite not having much to really work with. Ms. Drake, less experienced yet memorable for her Leading Player role in Skylight’s “Pippin” is an actor worth watching as she progresses.
But even these three actors aren’t enough to lift this play out of the threadbare and cliched script.
”Strange Snow” is either an idea in search of a play or a play in search of an idea and neither one makes for a fully engaging night at the theater.
Production credits: Director, C. Michael Wright; Stage Manager, Veronica Zahn; Scenic Designer, Keith Pitts; Costume Designer, Jazmin Aurora Medina; Lighting Designer, Sarah Hamilton; Sound Designer, Kristan Wilborg; Production Manager, Brandy Kline; Propmaster, Meghan Savagian; Production Photographer, Paul Ruffalo.