Blight in August

What do you get when a distinguished Southern novelist takes to playwriting? Feisty eccentrics and dreamy loners, down-home repartee, prophetic dreams— and some of the clunkiest exposition this side of a French maid with a feather duster.

Reynolds Price's August Snow and its sequel, Night Dance (Mint Theater), follow the fortunes of Neal and Taw Avery— first as newlyweds in a small North Carolina town in 1937, then as a struggling couple at the end of World War II. In the early play, Neal and Taw are in crisis because he drunkenly revels with best friend Porter and still cleaves to Mama, a venomous widow. Night Dance finds the couple eight years later, childless and again in crisis. This time around, wartime deaths reverberate, and ghosts materialize to give advice and dance.

The best bits are memorable, well-acted characters. Neal's mother, played tartly by Donna Davis, delivers herself of devastating homespun cynicism. Michael William Connors's Porter strikes pathos as Neal's sacrificial closet lover, and Stephen Payne's Dob Watkins is given surly, degenerate life as an old drunk with a dog who can sing the national anthem.

Unfortunately, these gnarled souls merely circle the supposedly magnetic Neal and steely orphan Taw— both vapid, barely sketched-in creations. With Jonathan Bank's slack direction, this talky saga comes across like an early rehearsal on a bare stage. The same wood table and chairs serve as eight different places in 20 scenes. You can hear the actors' footsteps echo loudly as they clump onstage. Besides a little swing music, this production's only other sound is a clock ticking relentlessly on.

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