Monday, June 29, 2009

Sweet Storm

Grade: B+

By Scott Hudson. Directed by Padraic Lillis. Produced by the Alchemy Theatre Company of Manhattan in association with LAByrinth Theatre Company. At the Kirk Theatre at Theatre Row through Aug. 16.

Are you the kind of jaded New Yorker who wouldn't mind being transported to the Southern U.S., circa 1960, for a brief taste of slower times and pre-sexual-revolution romance? Or are you the kind of jaded New Yorker who can only enjoy the South with a double-plated fourth wall to keep the hick characters at an antiseptic remove? Most reviewers find Scott Hudson's debut play promising, at the very least, and tenderly well-proportioned as a seventy-five minute two-hander about honeymooner expectations in rural Florida. And most applaud Lillis's direction of Jamie Dunn and Eric T. Miller. But this tree-house romance doesn't harmonize well for Alexis Soloski. And Matthew Murray of Talkin' Broadway simply hates the whole thing -- though his review is pinched with such insistent scorn that I can't quite read it as an F grade. In brief: check your bile before you buy a ticket or Sweet Storm may leave you sour.

CurtainUp A
(Elizabeth Ahlfors) Unpretentious honesty sums up every element of this 75-minute drama—writing, direction and performances. Effective sound and lighting heighten the drama, as does Lea Umberger's set with its buckets of gardenias and gloomy Spanish moss overhead; also her story illuminating costumes. Sweet Storm is somewhat reminiscent of the light romance in William Inge's Bus Stop and is shaded with the playwright's dedication "to my mother and father whose love for one another has stood the tests of time." But it's left to the audience to decide if Ruthie and Bo's love will stand the test of time. A
(Judith Jarosz) Playwright Scott Hudson does a nice job of keeping us interested by capturing a more innocent time, with characters whose heartfelt struggles speak straight to the heart. I keep coming back to that word "charming," but really, when is the last time you heard people in a jaded New York audience sigh "awww" all together under their breath...and mean it! It is the subtle shifts in this script with occasional outbursts that keeps slyly propelling us forward. It is a sweet evening of theater.

The New York Times A
(Andy Webster) Like the best country music, Scott Hudson’s “Sweet Storm” benefits from restraint. A gentle wisp of a love story in Florida in 1960, this two-person one-act at the Kirk Theater blends a fantastical setting with a longing for spiritual and carnal rapture, and by not straining to do too much, accomplishes more than it deserves to ... The players are well matched, neither eclipsing the other, with Mr. Miller’s spirited optimism a fine counterpoint to Ms. Dunn’s flinty hauteur ... The play, a collaboration between the Alchemy Theater Company of Manhattan and the Labyrinth Theater Company, directed by Padraic Lillis, ends on a stirring note. For a narrative so slight, “Sweet Storm” stays with you like the freshness following a summer cloudburst.

Light and Sound America A
(David Barbour) Sweet Storm is a brief play, and it isn't filled with lots of action or major plot twists. Bo's plans for a romantic wedding night go awry -- harsh words are spoken, prayers are said, and buried pains are revealed. But Hudson's treatment of this situation is so honest and tender that you find yourself caring very much about this troubled pair of lovers ... The script is a delicate, fragile thing, and it needs exactly the kind of special handling it gets in Padraic Lillis' sensitive production, which introduces us to a pair of exceptionally talented young actors.

Backstage A-
(Ron Cohen) [T]he production offers an engrossing 75 minutes or so, thanks to Hudson's deft way with colloquial dialogue, the acting, and the sensitive direction of Padraic Lillis. The script also bubbles with easy humor, as when Bo describes his physical state when he first realized he was in love with Ruthie or how he bought new underwear for the honeymoon ... Program credits tell us Sweet Storm is the "first written play" by Hudson, an actor and acting coach, and it's a promising debut. For a full-bodied work, the writing could probably use somewhat more storm. But the sweetness is never overdone and highly appealing.

Theatre Mania B+
(Adam R. Perlman) Hudson plays a game of brinksmanship both with his characters and his situation. He keeps pushing them onto the verge of cliche -- for example, Bo's a preacher and Ruthie doubts her faith -- but all is redeemed through the specifics of the writing and playing. In particular, Miller's southern gentleman is a marvel; he's utterly good and yet so much more than a boring romantic fantasy. True, there are moments when the slight script seems stretched a bit thin -- and the play could probably do without the last bit of mild melodrama -- but Hudson sees this relationship with remarkably clear eyes and makes it felt with remarkably clear force. Aided by Padraic Lillis' lovely, transparent direction, he has pulled off a decidedly tricky balancing act with aplomb.

Variety B
(Sam Thielman) There's not much else in New York that looks and talks like "Sweet Storm." Debuting playwright Scott Hudson's tiny, tight two-hander feels like nothing so much as a staged Flannery O'Connor short story, with the play's deeply religious newlyweds trying to iron out marriage's inconveniences in a treehouse somewhere in central Florida. The script is remarkably controlled without feeling slick, and Jamie Dunn and Eric T. Miller give refreshing, uncynical perfs as a young couple troubled as much by love as by suffering. Padraic Lillis directs the subdued action to a T ... Hudson, an actor with co-producer LAByrinth Theater Company, has set himself a difficult task with the two-character, single-scene drama, and he's acquitted himself admirably. The play doesn't shine, but it frequently sparkles, and the character arcs are well-reasoned and subtle. "Sweet Storm" is utterly strange and unexpected, but it also feels reassuringly solid.

The Village Voice C
(Alexis Soloski) An odd blend of naturalism and absurdism, the play opens as young preacher Bo (Eric T. Miller) lugs his paraplegic bride, Ruthie (Jamie Dunn), into the treehouse he's built for their honeymoon, while she cries, "I gotta wee! I'm gonna wet myself!" So Bo whips out a bedpan and box of tissues. Ah, romance. Really, this couple seems ill-suited for nuptial bliss: Bo is a man of the cloth; Ruthie has lost her faith. Ruthie tries to maintain her independence; Bo coddles her and calls her "sugar doll." The actors also do not seem to communicate much mutual delight.

Talkin' Broadway F
(Matthew Murray) Neither Dunn, with her vacant stares and one-note whiny voice, and Miller, whose entire portrayal emanates from the dumb-hick drawl he employs, evince much in the way of personality or creativity. And their utter lack of chemistry together would extinguish any fire in the writing, assuming there were any smoldering in the first place. But none of this matters much, given all that Hudson hasn’t bothered to include: If he didn’t claim in that program note he wanted to salute his family’s own Southern roots, Sweet Storm would feel even more like an evisceration of everyone on the opposite side of the Mason-Dixon Line. As it is, it constantly teeters on the edge of parody, with Bo and Ruthie both so clueless about life and each other that they may as well be traipsing through a Saturday Night Live skit during an election year.

CurtainUp A 13; A 13; New York Times A 13; Light and Sound America A 13; Backstage A- 12; TheatreMania B+ 11; Variety B 10; Village Voice C 7; Talkin' Broadway D 4; Total = 96/9 = 10.67 = B+

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