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Davey, played by David Derby, who prefers not to talk about his experiences, is withdrawn and surly.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