Compelling And Powerful Drama On Stage At Groves Theatre


Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic
Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

The drama of life unfolds in the plays of Stephen Metcalfe, and most vividly, in his play “Strange Snow”, now on stage at the Groves Cabin Theatre, in Morongo Valley, CA.

Metcalfe is a journeyman writer of stage and screen.  He’s written and/or adapted more than a half dozen screenplays and over twelve stage plays.  He also wrote and directed the independent movie “Beautiful Joe”, and his stage play “Strange Snow” became the basis for the 1989 movie “Jacknife”, starring Robert DeNiro, Ed Harris, and Cathy Bates.

w3880-webThe powerful and compelling drama currently dazzling audiences at the Groves Theatre, is brilliantly directed by actor/director Abe Daniels, and features a wonderful cast of three Desert Theatre League (DTL) award winning actors: Donette Swain, Kurt Schauppner, and Abe Daniels.

The story deals with two Vietnam veterans and their difficult readjustment to civilian life.  David (Kurt Schauppner), once a popular high school athlete with a promising future, is devastated by his battlefield injuries and by the death of his friend Bobby.

After returning from the war, he takes a job as a truck driver and struggles with depression and alcoholism while bunking in with his younger sister Martha (Donette Swain), a lovely but painfully shy high school biology teacher who is as lonely as David.

w3823-web David’s Viet Nam war friend Megs, a likable country boy, found the war an outlet for his own violent temper and emotions, although he too suffers guilt over Bobby’s death.  Upon returning from “Nam”, Megs tries to rebuild his life, becoming an auto mechanic and opening his own business.  David and Megs reunite for a fishing trip where Megs meets Martha, and the two are drawn closer together with each visit.

David fears losing Martha, and does everything he can to throw a monkey wrench into the budding romance.  The shy Martha blossoms with Megs’ attention, and David goes on a destructive drunken rampage, leaving Megs and Martha to seriously reconsider the ramifications of their relationship.

“Strange Snow” is set in the late sixties, and the medical community hadn’t quite discovered the cause of or and how to treat “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” or PTSD.   Thousands of our military men and women returned home not even knowing why they were sent to fight a foreign war in the first place, let alone receive any counseling as to how to deal with the emotions they were now experiencing once back home.  And they received no support from a confused and unsympathetic American populace, who also didn’t understand why American troops had to be sent to Southeast Asia.  One could make a good case for “Déjà vu all over again” (courtesy of New York Yankee ballplayer Yogi Berra) with our troops once again fighting foreign wars in the 21st century.

w3874-webAbe Daniels, the director understands his material so completely, that Daniels the actor makes Megs a winning and appealing character.  The audience is pulling for Martha and Megs to ultimately connect and become a couple.  Swain is absolutely enchanting as Martha and a delight to watch.  She also knows how to be always in the scene and focused without taking anything away from her two co-stars.  Schauppner is right on the money as a man in denial.  His almost sleepwalking, detached from reality, and alcohol-fueled performance is reminiscent of stressed out ex-soldiers trying to rejoin society, but not having much luck in the attempt.  It’s one of Schauppner’s best performances.  As a matter of fact, it’s one of the best ensemble performances seen in the desert this season.

The Groves is more than an intimate venue.  The audience sits a mere three feet away from the action.  It’s a postage-sized performing area, but oh what creative people can do in such a small space is a credit to director Daniel’s creativity and to the talent of his cast who makes it all the magic happen.  There were many moments of exquisite silence in the house, while actors effortlessly held the audience spellbound.  The audience was so enthralled, one could hear a pin drop; I even heard one male patron three seats away openly weeping.  When that kind of power produces those kinds of responses and resonance in an audience, you know you’re witnessing something special.

The combination of a sharply and intelligently written Stephen Metcalfe play like “Strange Snow”, and this cast is a recipe for a wonderful theatrical experience.  Don’t miss it!

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