Recently, NPR compiled a list of the worst songs played at weddings: “Send in the Clowns,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Just a Gigolo.” You might add to this the one playwright Scott Hudson chooses for his newlyweds to sway to in Sweet Storm. In the 1959 hit “Sleep Walk,” Santo & Johnny croon: “Instead of dreaming/I sleepwalk/’Cause I lost you.” Yes, the play references sleepwalking, but choosing an anthem of lost love for a first dance is one of several tonal missteps that Hudson and director Padraic Lillis perform in this peculiar love story.
An odd blend of naturalism and absurdism, the play opens as young preacher Bo (Eric T. Miller) lugs his paraplegic bride, Ruthie (Jamie Dunn), into the treehouse he’s built for their honeymoon, while she cries, “I gotta wee! I’m gonna wet myself!” So Bo whips out a bedpan and box of tissues. Ah, romance.
Really, this couple seems ill-suited for nuptial bliss: Bo is a man of the cloth; Ruthie has lost her faith. Ruthie tries to maintain her independence; Bo coddles her and calls her “sugar doll.” The actors also do not seem to communicate much mutual delight. A quickie annulment would seem in order, yet Hudson dedicates the play to “my mother and father, whose love for one another has stood the tests of time” and ends it with what a stage direction describes as “virginal moans of ecstasy.”
Bride and groom, Hudson wants to insist, will live happily ever after. But Ruthie, wet and miserable, says, “I’m as happy as any surprised bride could be in her honeymoon treehouse out in the pourin’ rain in the middle of the woods. I’m a lucky, lucky lady.” Then she begins to sob.