Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
Steven Metcalfe’s Strange Snow, which opened Friday night (April 12) at the Know Theatre in Binghamton, centers around two Viet Nam veterans and the continuing impact of the war on their lives.
It’s been years since David Flanagan (Nick DeLucia) came home from Viet Nam. He is post-traumatic and a drunk. An old comrade, Megs (Mike Arcesi), shows up at his house in the wee hours of the morning on the first day of trout season to take him fishing.
Megs is not an intruder, as David’s schoolmarm sister, Martha (Lynette Daniels), believes he is, but he intrudes on their quiet life in a way neither expects, or necessarily wants … at first.
He convinces her that he is “a friend of Dave’s from Viet Nam” and, either intrigued or desperate for something different, she invites him to have a cup of coffee before the two men go in search of a perfect rainbow trout. Having a little fun, Megs gleefully pressures Martha to trade her coffee for a “breakfast beer” which, much to her brother’s amazement, she does. This emboldens her to say that, if David doesn’t want to go fishing with Megs, she will. They both go.
Originally produced in early 1982, the play’s urgency resonates still more than 30 years later. Director Tim Gleason chose to keep it in our present, casting actors who, we believe, could still be suffering from the horrors of that war. David still stays in his comfort zone of the ’70s, and the Harvest Gold appliances in his kitchen confirm that.
The two-act play takes place over the course of just 24 hours in the Flanagan home, which the sister and brother share now that their parents are gone. It packs a lot of character development into that short span of time.
David is less willing than Megs to come to terms with where his life has taken him since the war. Both veterans are guilt-ridden over the death of an unseen comrade, “Bobby,” who is an integral part of who the two of them have become. When David begins to fear that Megs is going to woo his sister away, he “throws him under the bus,” telling Martha he’s no good.
DeLucia is believable as David, whose drunken distrust of the gregarious and often juvenile Megs makes him slur his words. He does it just enough for you to get that he doesn’t like Megs, but not so much that you can’t understand what he’s saying. He is protective of his sister but finds enough mean things to say to her, too.
Arcesi’s role as the bravely cheerful veteran is a serious one, but he has a lot of fun with his character’s need to be silly, too. You get the feeling that, if he weren’t fooling around, he’d just as soon punch someone in the mouth.
Ironically, it’s David who ends up in a fight, but we only learn about it when he staggers in drunk and bloody. It is not his sister who comes to his aid but Megs, and the tender moment between them will be familiar to anyone who ever had a brother-in-arms during wartime. We learn in this scene why they went fishing that morning in the first place.
I’ve seen both of the men in previous Know Theatre productions — DeLucia in Glengarry Glen Ross and Arcesi in That Championship Season. Gleason is lucky to have both of them, especially for these very male-oriented stories.
Daniels, whose bio says she is “a relative newcomer to the stage,” is appropriately stiff as the spinster, Martha. Although at first I thought she sounded too scripted, as I got to know her character, I understood that Daniels had actually nailed it. Martha is a woman who thinks she’s supposed to come across as officious and proper, and while she really longs to be free of the bonds of her messed-up brother, she loves him too much to leave.
Megs pushes Martha’s long-neglected buttons, and just as he gives David the opportunity that both men need to grieve for Bobby, he also frees Martha to be herself. Daniels warms quickly to that side of Martha’s character, and is likeable in it. Megs benefits from her attraction to him, but he doesn’t take advantage of her. She knows what she is getting herself into.
I was reminded of another brother-sister play that had a completely different outcome, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Unlike Laura, however, Martha doesn’t have to “blow out her candles” in the end. She lights them instead.
Another important part of the telling of this story is the music. Gleason used mostly old Beatles tunes for scene changes and intermission, but they are covered by other artists. He explained to me that he did this to evoke the era, while expanding the music’s impact in the broader, more current context of the play.
And for that music, the sound effects and the lighting, he has Brian Nayor to thank. Nayor has been an important contributor to Know Theatre, both on and off the stage.
Other company veterans responsible for Strange Snow’s success are Kat D’Andrea (production manager), Amanda Marsico (stage manager) and Patrick D. Giblin (set construction). The set is one of the more elaborate I’ve seen at the Know, which anyone who has been there knows is a low platform just a few feet from the front row seats. It is a wonderfully intimate atmosphere.
The set includes what looks like meticulously hand-painted ’70s wallpaper in the kitchen, two doors, a mantelpiece in the living room, a set of stairs and even a porch.
One of the sounds that is not part of the show is the stomping of feet across wooden floor boards from the tenants who live above the playhouse. I don’t think that’s what most actors have in mind when they say, “treading the boards,” but there is something kind of charming and real about it that adds to the whole experience. If nobody’s home upstairs during a performance, however, that’s OK, too.
I’ll end my review by quoting Director Tim Gleason’s program note:
The scars of war often take years to fade. Those are just the visible scars. The ones we can’t see take even longer … the war in Viet Nam left many of our soldiers deeply scarred.
Our hope is that … we can reawaken and recognize the need of those men and women to feel our love, understanding, gratitude, and respect for the scars they have suffered on behalf of our nation.
IF YOU GO: The title Strange Snow comes from a line about renewal in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play will be performed 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through April 28 at Know Theatre, 74 Carroll St., Binghamton.
Tickets are $20 (seniors, $15; students, $10). The April 18 performance is pay-what-you-can. Call the box office at 607-724-4341, or visit www.knowtheatre.org.