“Strange Snow” Explores Psychological Impact of War

Rehearsal of “Strange Snow” a play about Vietnam veterans dealing with PTSD. (John Molseed/jmolseed@postbulletin.com) Forum Communications Co.

The terms change, but the trauma soldiers experience in war is as old as conflict itself. Whether it’s called shell shock, battle fatigue or PTSD, people’s reactions and adaptation to combat experience are varied.

In the Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of Stephen Metcalfe’s drama “Strange Snow,” two Vietnam veterans with shared combat experiences find themselves coping in disparate ways.

“The friends are very far apart on this — who’s to blame, or how much they blame themselves,” said Jeanne Skattum, director.

Davey, played by David Derby, who prefers not to talk about his experiences, is withdrawn and surly. Megs, his gregarious friend, is more talkative but prone to an occasional window-punching outburst. As Megs drops into Davey’s life and charms Davey’s sister, Martha, the two friends, carrying old wounds and assigning blame for past events, are on a collision course.

Skattum saw the show in the early 1980s when it was relatively new and got a copy of the script.

“When I decided to submit it for this season, it was this tattered-looking thing,” she said.

Although it addresses veterans of Vietnam, its content is timeless as veterans of current conflicts deal with PTSD.

“I think maybe we understand it a bit better now,” Skattum said.

However, that doesn’t mean veterans are getting the help they need. Especially after decades of warfare have created so many veterans.

“We kind of move from war to another war to another war to another war,” Skattum said.

“Strange Snow” was published in 1982 as the U.S. moved to forget an unpopular and futile war that claimed more than 58,000 American lives. Veterans are invited to a preview performance before the March 6 opening. The script doesn’t pull punches, Skattum said. Could seeing the show be opening old wounds for vets who see it?

“It could be, it could be,” Skattum said.

However, seeing the characters in “Strange Snow” dealing with experiences from another war might soften the impact of the message about the psychological impact of war even if the message is the same, she added.

“Some people never learn to work through it, and some do,” she said.

Skattum said the timeless message of the script has stuck with her in part because it provides challenges for the actors.

“It’s such a beautiful acting piece,” she said. “It’s very touching.”

Performing such an emotional play can be a challenge in an intimate space like the Rep’s main theater space.

“The first time you perform on this stage, it can be a bit of a challenge,” Skattum said. “You look out there and there are eyes everywhere.”

For some actors, that intimacy can be an asset when you can see and hear the audience respond to the show.

And Skattum expects a response.

“It’s our intention to do the things that aren’t expected of community theater,” she said. “I don’t always do things that are easy to watch and see.”

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, March 5, 2020

‘Screwtape,’ by Some Measures, Falls Short

Laurie Helmers, playing Slumtrimpet, left, Rich Mansfield, playing Screwtape, and George Skare, playing Wormwood, rehearse on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, for the upcoming production, “Screwtape,” at the Repertory Theatre in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

Part of the fun of “Screwtape” is seeing a depiction of what the “underside” of god’s creation thinks of the people populating the earth and how they can be brought to temptation and eventual damnation.

The script, written by James Forsythe as a stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screw Tape Letters,” has a healthy dose of satire. However, most of the humor is cerebral and requires an articulate cast to convey that humor. Unfortunately, some of it gets lost in this production.

In Rochester Repertory’s production of “Screwtape,” Rich Mansfield, as Screwtape, does exactly that when he’s perched on the various levels of a tight but intricate set. When he’s later joined by Laurie Helmers, as Slumtrimpet, Mansfield gets an equal on stage from both the script and the acting.

Screwtape’s charge is to oversee his nephew, Wormwood, who is on his first mission to bring a young man, Mike Green, referred to as “the Patient,” to the infernal depths.

George Skare, as Wormwood, brings a nervous energy to the stage conveyed with a dash of adept physical humor. He conveys an earnestness of wanting to do well at doing bad. However, his delivery and articulation keep his depiction of Wormwood from holding his own with Screwtape and Slumtrimpet.

For physical acting, Anna Landkammer, who glides across the stage as a prim and proper Judy Macadam, takes an excellent and convincing fall with the assistance of Ben Menning, who plays a directionless and rather lifeless Mike Green.

Despite clever satire, the script itself doesn’t give much depth to the human characters. However, proselytizing doesn’t create engaging dramas. The characters seem to have just enough dimension to fit into what is essentially an adaptation of a clever sermon.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, January 20, 2020

Farr Returns to Repertory Helm with “Screwtape”

Laurie Helmers, playing Slumtrimpet, left, Rich Mansfield, playing Screwtape, and George Skare, playing Wormwood, rehearse on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, for the upcoming production, “Screwtape,” at the Repertory Theatre in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

In the Rochester Repertory Theatre’s latest show, “Screwtape,” unseen influences dog the characters.

Director Dawn Farr wonders if their presence is more than fiction.

The production brings Farr back to the helm of a Rochester Repertory Theatre show for the first time since 2015. Farr had to step away for health reasons during the production of “Making God Laugh.”

“I wanted to make sure I was well enough to do some things before I directed a show,” she said.

Farr, who is now walking with the aid of a cane, has worked to regain enough mobility to return to the director’s seat. Despite having graduated from needing a walker to get around, the progress has felt slow, she said. But staying away wasn’t an option.

“I breathe theatre,” she said. “I’ve done theatre since I was a little girl.”

“Screwtape” is a stage adaptation written by James Forsyth of C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters.” Farr said it was the first show she was involved with when she transferred to Bethel University (then Bethel College) to study theatre.

“I’ve always wanted to do this show,” she said.

The concept behind the show of unseen hands playing with our decisions and fates appeals to Farr. Looking back at “Making God Laugh,” she wonders if there was a bit of that occurring. Four cast members ended up dropping out of the show and Farr herself had to step back as her own health problems set in.

“Whatever beliefs you have, sometimes it feels like there’s an exterior force influencing our lives,” she said.

The show will also include live quartet performing music between scenes and during intermission. Much of it is improvised and moody with dissonant tones.

“If we do something we like, we try to duplicate it,” said Alecia Meline, who plays violin. The music is supposed to be dark but a little bit playful.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin January 16, 2020

Witty ‘Wandaleria’ is Rep’s Gift for Audiences This Holiday Season

Scott Stekel, playing Rocky, hands flowers to Annette Schuler, playing Wanda Mae Pretty, while acting out a scene with Becca Messick, playing Ivy, and Pam Whitfield, playing Betsy, during a rehearsal for the play on Nov. 7, 2019 at Rochester Repertory Theatre. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

The disappointment that Rochester Repertory Theatre is not doing a holiday show this season is tempered by what has been scheduled instead: “Wandaleria,” a clever comedy by David Valdes.

The play, which opened Friday, centers on Wanda, who rarely vacates the recliner in front of the TV, other than for flights of fancy that carry her away from her deadly dull life.  Things get a lot more exciting, though, when Wanda gets word that Rocky, her prison pen pal, has been released and is on his way to her small Maine town for a visit.  To reveal more than that would give away too many surprises, in a script that’s full of them.

Director Debbie Fuehrer has cast Annette Schuler as Wanda, with Pam Whitfield as her sister/landlord Betsy, Becca Messick as Betsy’s daughter Ivy, and Scott Stekel as Rocky.  Jim Hencinski and Scott Koon each portray a variety of characters from Wanda’s active imagination.

Schuler has a wonderfully deadpan way of delivering even the funniest or most outrageous lines, a trait that goes a long way toward making this play plausible. Whitfield’s Betsy is perpetually angry and impossible to please–but her heart is in the right place. Messick has fun as Ivy, a young woman searching for her own identity.

Also enjoyable is Stekel, whose Rocky manages to put on a convincing display of innocence. The prison inmate’s apparent expertise regarding rare flowers is one of the more ingenious aspects of this story. And it turns out his imagination and storytelling ability are as vivid as Wanda’s.

As for Koon and Hencinski, they respect no boundaries when it comes to getting a laugh. Set design is by Theo St. Mane, with costumes by Jenniefer Anderson.

Valdes, the playwright, traveled from his home in Boston to attend opening weekend at the Rep. His play has much to say about how we convince ourselves that change is often too hard to even attempt. Once the inertia is overcome, though, something better than fantasy becomes possible.

So, it’s not a Christmas play, as might be expected and hoped for, but the Rep’s “Wandaleria” is a satisfying gift of the season.

–Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin November 25, 2019


Rep’s ‘Wandaleria’ Mixes Fantasy and Reality

Scott Stekel, playing Rocky, hands flowers to Annette Schuler, playing Wanda Mae Pretty, while acting out a scene with Becca Messick, playing Ivy, and Pam Whitfield, playing Betsy, during a rehearsal for the play on Nov. 7, 2019 at Rochester Repertory Theatre. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

“Imagination is silly,” Frank Sinatra sang, “you go around willy-nilly.”

That’s the problem for Wanda in the play “Wandaleria,” which opens Nov. 22 at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.

Wanda adds spice to her dull life with an active imagination — but before long, reality shows up and being willy-nilly isn’t much silly fun anymore.

“She’s a slug,” Debbie Fuehrer, who is directing the show, said of Wanda. “She’s got a boring life, watches TV all day.”

The dreams make Wanda’s life more interesting. But dreams turn into reality when her prison pen pal shows up at her house looking for a place to stay.

Fuehrer said the play mixes fantasy and reality, as well as humor and sadness.

“It’s a little more light-hearted,” she said. “You have the humor, but in the second act you have that poignancy.”

Fuehrer has cast Annette Schuler as Wanda, with Scott Stekel as the pen pal, Pam Whitfield as Wanda’s no-nonsense roommate, Becca Messick as Wanda’s restless niece Ivy, and Scott Koon and Jim Hencinski playing a variety of fantasy characters.

Playwright David Valdes, who lives in Boston, will be at the Rep for the opening weekend of the show. Fuehrer was in a Valdes play, “Brave Navigator,” several years ago, and wanted to direct one of his shows this season at the Rep.

Many audience members will likely see themselves in the play, Fuehrer said.

“I hope they walk away feeling uplifted, and that someone understands what they’re going through,” she said. “A lot of people are living lives of quiet desperation.” People face a daily barrage of news reports, obligations, demands.

“If they walk away knowing if they can make a connection with another person, healing can take place,” Fuehrer said.

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin, November 13, 2019


Delightful Casting Creates a Fun Rep Opener in ‘Miss Holmes’

Actors in the Rep Theatre production of “Miss Holmes” include (from left) Beth Regener as Dr. Watson, Rebecca Sands as Sherlock Holms, Lisa Modry as Lizzie Chapman, and Lauren Elias as Mrs. Hudson. (Ken Klotzbach/kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

If you think you’ve seen every possible permutation of the Sherlock Holmes legend, then you haven’t seen “Miss Holmes.”

The play, which opened Friday at the Rochester Repertory Theatre, is an imaginative take by playwright Christopher Walsh, in which Holmes and Watson are women.

Miss Sherlock Holmes is every bit as finicky and brilliant as her male counterpart. And Dr. Dorothy Watson is as bewildered by Holmes’s genius as Dr. John Watson is in the original stories.

It’s a clever take on what is known as the Holmes canon, and the Rep production benefits immensely from the delightful pairing of Rebecca Sands as Holmes and Beth Regener as Watson.

Sands, who continues to be one of the most interesting talents on local stages, portrays Holmes as haughty and headstrong, with nervous ticks and a devious look in her eyes. Regener, who always taps into an inner joy with her onstage roles, appears to savor bringing Watson to life.

They are joined by an all-star cast of local talent assembled by director Mary Pyfferoen: RJ Traff as Mycroft Holmes, Sean Lundberg as the menacing Thomas Chapman, Bill Schnell as a Scotland Yard inspector, Lisa Modry as the seemingly innocent Lizzie Chapman, John McDougall as superintendent of an asylum, Rich Dietman as Greener and Cheryl Frarck as ancient Eudora Featherstone.

Standing out among the several newcomers are Lucas Simonson, required to spit out sloppy German as Dr. Stamford, and Raquel Hellman as Dr. Anderson.

It’s meant to be fun, but there are also some well-placed messages about the strengths and abilities of women. Meanwhile, the costumes by Cara Edwards are outstanding.

We found the staccato nature of the play, with numerous short scenes, nearly all of them separated by movement of props and furniture, to be disruptive. The longer scenes, allowing the actors to settle into their characters, were better played. Along with that it was occasionally difficult to hear the lines spoken by voices that were either too quiet, rushed or muffled.

As for the plot, it seemed overly developed and too long, when all this play needs is a simple focus on the interplay between Holmes and Watson.

O.K., so “Miss Holmes” is not the best twist on Holmes. But it is creative, and in the hands of this cast, especially Sands and Regener, it’s a fun start to the Rep’s new season.

–Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin October 7, 2019

Rep’s ‘Miss Holmes’ Offers a Feminine Twist on Sherlock Stories

Actors in the Rep Theatre production of “Miss Holmes” include (from left) Beth Regener as Dr. Watson, Rebecca Sands as Sherlock Holms, Lisa Modry as Lizzie Chapman, and Lauren Elias as Mrs. Hudson. (Ken Klotzbach/kklotzbach@postbulletin.com) Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com

If you think you’ve seen and read every possible variation on the Sherlock Holmes stories, get ready for something that is possibly entirely new: “Miss Holmes” at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.

The play, which opens Oct.4, places two women, Miss Holmes and Dr. Dorothy Watson, as the lead characters in a murder mystery. Everything is what you might expect: brilliant deductions by Holmes, foggy London locales, including 22B1 Baker Street, and Holmes’s mysterious brother Mycroft.

But one thing is not so elementary for Holmes and Watson in this play: As Victorian-era women, they have to struggle against the limitations set for them by society.

“The women definitely take the lead,” said Mary Pyfferoen, who is directing the show. But, she added, any missteps on their part will likely force them back into traditional female roles.

The play features Rebecca Sands as Miss Holmes and Beth Regener as Watson, with R.J. Traff as Mycroft. Beyond that, Pyfferoen has assembled a cast of local stage all-stars: Lisa Modry, Cheryl Frarck, Bill Schnell, Sean Lundberg, and Rich Dietman.

“And I have six new people who have never performed at the Rep and are making their debuts,” Pyfferoen said. “I’ve got a great combination of new people and experience.”

In rehearsals, the cast has been dealing with the quick changes of scenery, a variety of British accents, and, to top it all off, the requirement for a couple of characters to speak in German. The German phrases, by the way, will not be translated for the audience.

Pyfferoen said “Miss Holmes” was exactly what she was looking for during a search for scripts.

“I had seen a play in the Cities written for Sherlock and Watson to be men, but it had women playing the parts,” she said. “I wondered if there were any written for women, so I started looking.”

That’s when she found “Miss Holmes,” written by Christopher Walsh. But as more than a gimmicky turn on the Holmes stories, this play explores conventional gender roles in the buttoned-up society of 19th-Century England. There was no room for error for women who wanted to break the mold.

Aside from that, “Miss Holmes” offers the same attractions as the original Sherlock Holmes stories. “It makes you think, ‘How on earth did she figure that out?'” Pyfferoen said.

–Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin, September 26, 2019






‘That’ New Rochester Theatre Debuts with ‘The Rainmaker’

Cast members, from left, Mitch Gibson, Jacob Dreher, John Shaffer, Tommy Rinkoski, Samantha Gibson and Blake Hogue walk through a scene during a rehearsal for “ The Rainmaker” in THAT Theatre Company’s first production at Rochester Repertory Theatre. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

A new live theater company in Rochester officially launches Aug. 2 with a production of “The Rainmaker.” The new group, That Theatre Company, consists of a small group of actors, directors, and technicians who, for now, will rent performance space at Rochester Repertory Theatre.

“We’re looking at our own space, hopefully, in the future,” said Blake Hogue, one of the organizers of the new company. “We want to go small, maybe a storefront theater with 40 to 50 seats.” Hogue said the intention is to pay theater artists for their talent.

The group, working informally, has already done a couple of original shows in the upstairs black box space at the Rep. For “The Rainmaker,” though, the company is moving to the main stage at the Rep and officially debuting as That Theatre Company.

“We want to bring in more people to see what we do, what we’re about,” said Samantha Gibson, who is directing “The Rainmaker.” “It’s a recognizable show. This is our diving board, and we want to make a bigger splash right off the bat.”

After “The Rainmaker,” she said, they hope audiences will return to see what That Theatre Company can do with upcoming original shows.

“The Rainmaker” is a comedy/drama about a Depression-era farm family. The daughter, Lizzie, who thinks herself too plain, is verging on spinsterhood. Meanwhile, a drought threatens the family’s way of life. Enter Starbuck, an apparent huckster who claims he can make it rain in exchange for $100.

“We’ve compared him to Harold Hill in ‘The Music Man,'” Gibson said. “He stirs up a ruckus, divides the family, but ultimately unites them.”

Hogue will portray Starbuck, while Gibson is Lizzie. Also in the cast are John Shaffer, Tommy Rinkoski, Mitch Gibson, Jake Dreher and Mike Tri. All are local stage veterans. They’re part of a core group that will be involved in the company’s productions.

“There’s a lot of talent, not just performers, but people in light design, set design, all the technical ability,” Hogue said.

For now, That Theatre Company does not have a set schedule. Plays will be produced as space, talent, and scripts become available, Hogue said.

Asked if Rochester needs yet another live theater company, Hogue said, “I think it does. There are others that will do the big budget musicals, the big ticket-setters. What we’re willing to do is smaller-scale productions, more intimate, professional.”

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin  July 25, 2019






Play Looks at Life in Minnesota for Iraqi Newcomers

“Birds Sing Differently Here,” a play based on the stories of Iraqi refugees and immigrants in Minnesota, will be presented by the Reconciliation Project Saturday and Sunday at the Rochester Repertory Theatre, 103 Seventh St. NE.

The play is performed in both English and Arabic by a cast of six Iraqi community members and four professional actors. Together, they offer a look at the personal lives of those trying to build bridges of communication and understanding.

The play was developed in 2017 and premiered that year at the Guthrie Theater, with additional material added earlier this year. The performances at the Rep are the opening of a four-city tour. Post-performance discussions will include director Taous Khazem, cast members and community representatives.


Performances are at 7 p.m. both days. Tickets are $10, available through the Rep box office at 507-289-1737 and at the door.

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin  July 11, 2019

Local Theatrical Group Takes on a New Role


Director Jeanne Skattum, center, one of the co-founders of the Rochester Repertory Theatre, works with cast members during a rehearsal of the theater’s production of “Avenue Q” in February. On Thursday, the theater bought the building it has been performing in since 2007. Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com

After years as an understudy, a longtime Med City theatrical group is taking on a new role as theater owner.

On Thursday, the Repertory Theatre Co. purchased the 62-year-old building where it has performed in northeast Rochester since 2007.

“We’ve been looking for a permanent space for a while,” said Rep Board Chairman Mark Masbruch. “This is a perfect fit for us.”

The Rep Theatre purchased the two-story building at 103 Seventh St. NE for $410,000 from William Kolb and the Kolb family, who owned it for 13 years. That complex once housed the early version of the Studio Academy Charter School.

Masbruch said several things, including the theater’s history, played into the decision to buy a building.

The Rep Theatre started in 1984 and performed 23 seasons in a leased building at 314 1⁄2 S. Broadway. The group was surprised in 2007 when it was abruptly notified that it had a few weeks to vacate the building, despite having performances scheduled.

While there wasn’t concern that would happen in the Seventh Street building, the theater group didn’t want to ever be put in that position again.

Once negotiations were worked out with the Kolb family, the Rep began raising funds for the building’s purchase. Mayo Clinic provided a matching grant, and the family of longtime supporter, the late Eric Donaldson, also helped with donations among other “numerous generous” donors. F&M Community Bank handled the mortgage.

The purchase comes during a time of growth for the Rep, which sold out almost of all of its recent performances.

“It’s been a very good year,” Masbruch said.

Owning the building opens the door for the non-profit group to work on a Phase Two renovation plan.

The hope is to expand the 90-seat theater space to eventually accommodate 120 seats, he said.

Jeff Kiger  Post-Bulletin  June 26, 2019