Theater archives

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.