Four years before the movie “Platoon” was released, “Strange Snow” hit stages depicting two Vietnam veterans coping with life after service.
Before then, Vietnam soldiers and veterans were absent in popular culture, said Jim Crawley, a U.S. Marine Vietnam veteran.
“Everybody coped differently,” said Chad Stowers, a U.S. Army veteran who was deployed in Iraq in 2004.
In the show, David, played by David Derby, and Megs, played by Alex Wilkins, are coping in opposing ways with their trauma and loss from their experiences in Vietnam. They’re headed for a confrontation, and when it comes, it’s explosive and intense.
Director Jeanne Skattum cast two actors who each have different approaches to their roles. Derby, leaning toward the method, is present and reacting in every scene. Wilkins plays Megs with rhythm — memorizing the cadence and flow of his lines and building character reactions around his proficiency with the script.
In a small cast, mixing those approaches can create an awkward performance. For this production, the two actors with different approaches to their roles is one of the show’s biggest strengths.
Wilkins, as Megs, is talkative to the point of babbling. Derby plays David more reserved and brooding — until he’s pushed too far.
When the two do hash things out, they’re at the same level of intensity and rage in a believable and satisfying scene. Derby’s in-the-moment acting ends up being the more believable of the two for most of the show. However, Wilkins adeptly brings more humanity to post-confrontation Megs.
Beth Regener, as David’s sister Martha, does not have as intense scenes, but portrays a woman walking a fine line of impatience and empathy with a balanced sincerity.
Some of the most effective moments are when nothing is being said on stage. Silence can be frightening for actors.
Following the intense confrontation between Megs and David, their restraint and ability to let nothing be said allows the impact of the emotional moments to settle on the audience with its full weight. That the cast has the discipline to hold those moments in silence for the right amount of time serves the audience well.
The set is nicely detailed, but space limitations on the small stage make it unclear in some scenes whether characters in different parts of the home can hear each other. When David delivers some damning assessments of Megs, whether those wounding words land on the man who’s keeping a friendly facade carry implications in later scenes. Some clarity via the set would have helped.
Since “Strange Snow” was written, a plethora of Vietnam pop-culture depictions have followed. In that light, “Strange Snow” might seem like it follows some familiar tropes. However, it was one of the first non-politicized works to give voice to a generation of veterans that still face struggles.
Repertory’s production honors that intention well.
–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, March 9, 2020