Through March 17, the Third Ward’s Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT) presents 'Strange Snow,' playwright Stephen Metcalfe’s powerful drama about family, war, love, loneliness and letting go of painful pasts. In its Sunday presentation, MCT captured all of the emotion the playwright intended.
Directed by C. Michael Wright (Miracle on South Division Street; Driving Miss Daisy) and set in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in April 1979, Strange Snow examines the long-term implications war can have on veterans and their families. The play inspired the 1989 film Jacknife, directed by David Jones and starring Ed Harris and Robert DeNiro.
Vietnam veterans David “Davey” Flanagan (Marques Causey, The Brothers Size; Picnic) and Joseph “Megs” Megessey (Ken T. Williams, October, Before I Was Born) appear to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While Davey masks his pain with alcohol, and refuses to talk about his war experience, the exuberant Megs, desperate to hide his explosively angry tendencies, can’t stop talking about Vietnam.
Davey’s sister Martha (Krystal Drake, Pippin; The Bed), a straight-laced high school science teacher who acts as his maid and caregiver, can’t take much more of her brother’s excessive drinking.
When Megs shows up at the Flanagan house unexpectedly to take Davey on a fishing trip and meets Martha, the two form a mutual attraction, which angers Davey, because Megs, although once a friend, is an unpleasant reminder of the Vietnam War.
All three actors gave fantastic performances Sunday afternoon. Williams portrayed the emotionally effusive Megs with equal part comedy and pathos, while Causey was tragically believable as Davey, a former high school star athlete and aspiring lawyer, whose involvement in the Vietnam War deeply embittered him and left him with broken dreams. Both characters feel a tremendous amount of guilt over the loss of their close friend and war comrade, Bobby, who was killed in the war.
Drake played the role of Martha, a single woman who believes she is unattractive, employs the perfect blend of reserve and restraint, yet longing for a significant other.
Costume designer Jazmin Aurora Medina dresses her characters in comfortable late 1970s clothing — tan corduroys, flannel shirts, bell-sleeved sweaters. We see Martha’s physical transformation, from a bespectacled character, hidden behind an oversized flannel robe, to a woman in a bright orange, pleated dress and burnt orange knit sweater, more comfortable in her own skin.
The show all takes place on a single set, the Flanagan home. The audience learns that Martha and Davey’s father has passed away, while the mother, unable to cope with Davey’s drinking, has moved to Florida. Scenic designer Keith Pitts has added homey and evocative details — mustard-colored plaid easy chairs, blue floral wallpaper, a trophy shelf, family pictures. The home, full of memories, feels warm and safe — and Davey can’t bear to leave.
Lighting designer Sarah Hamilton’s subtle lighting helps illuminate the dramatic tension of the performance, and sound designer Kristian Wiborg uses soft jazz in between scenes, which gives the performance a contemplative vibe.
Go See It: The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Strange Snow, through March 17.