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Taking it to the stage


'Strange Snow' and 'In the Blood' raise consciousness about the walking wounded of two unsuccessful wars

Jenny Grossenbacher and John Minton slow dance in a scene from the Magik Theatre's production of Strange Snow. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
An intense character study of Vietnam vets at Magik

"I don't come to the theater to think!" an angry audience member once complained, post-show, in the lobby of a theater that shall remain nameless. This impoverished approach to arts consumption is all too common, and too many theater companies pander to it. Firelight Theatre Company (recently merged with the Magik Children's Theatre to form Magik Theatre) never did. John Minton, erstwhile artistic director for Firelight and artistic director of Magik's Contemporary Theatre Arts series explains, "You just want somebody to feel something or think about something, that's the reason anyone ever puts feet to board, or paint to canvas, or pen to paper."

Magik's CTA series will have 'em thinking again, when Stephen Metcalfe's Strange Snow opens at the Jary Auditorium on March 19. Strange Snow examines the effects of the Vietnam War, the anger and isolation suffered by vets and their loved ones, while relating an unlikely love story and a movement toward redemption. The three-hander (starring Minton, Tony Ciaravino, and Jenny Grossenbacher) is an intense character study of two men, directly impacted by their experiences in battle, who have developed widely divergent coping mechanisms, and one woman who has been just as affected, if indirectly, through the brother she cares for as he tries to reassimilate.

Timely as it may seem, Strange Snow is about the personal, rather than the political, journeys of its characters. "This is not a platform play," says director Mary Rhame Evans, "it's not anti-war, it's pro-human." If anything, the cast, who spoke with veterans while researching their roles, feels a heightened responsibility to honor their commitment, and its consequences. "We don't necessarily take into consideration the prices paid psychologically," says Minton. "Whether it was a worthwhile endeavor or not politically, we're not trying to make that statement, but it's always good to slow down and think about every aspect."

Strange Snow

7:30pm Friday-Saturday,
2pm Sunday
March 19-April 3
7:30pm Thursday, March 25
$12 adult, $6 student
Jary Auditorium
100 Woodlawn

In the Blood

8pm Thursday-Saturday,
4pm Sunday
Through March 28
Jump-Start Theater

Evans feels these stories must be told, particularly stories of the psychological effects of the Vietnam War (130,000 suicides vs. 58,000 killed) because "Iraq is an unpopular war. As more and more physically and spiritually wounded veterans return home we're going to see a huge resurgence of these issues." The message she hopes people take from the production, however, is a personal and universal one: "No matter how embittered they are about other people and themselves, that they take away some forgiveness, some self-forgiveness, nothing can start without self-forgiveness."

Ciaravino, who says the play is life-affirming, adds, "I don't have any fear of anybody being insulted by it. I want them to go on the ride and be moved." Grossenbacher agrees that the ride is worthwhile: "I want the audience to feel what I did when I read the play for the first time. I was completely enthralled, right up until that very last line."

Dark welfare comedy by Renaissance Guild

"Suzan-Lori Parks isn't Shakespeare, but she's like Shakespeare," says Antoinette Winstead. "You can't just read her work, you have to actually see it performed." Winstead is directing Parks' In the Blood for the Renaissance Guild, a risky production for the young company, but one that fits solidly within Artistic Director Latrelle Bright's mission. "I want to expose the city of San Antonio to contemporary black writers," says Bright. Parks is "a black playwright, she's a female playwright, she's a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, and I want San Antonio to know that they're out there."

From left: Angela Bennett, Latrel Bright, Lupe Flores, Eric Moore, Jenelva Carter, and Kevin Majors perform in a scene from the Renaissance Guild's production of In the Blood at Jump-Start Theater. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
In the Blood, which plays two more weekends at Jump-Start Performance Co.'s newly refurbished space, is a darkly comic drama about a welfare mother struggling to raise five children, each by a different father. Winstead sees it as political satire. "You have this woman that's being abused by the system, literally abused by the system, and you're actually seeing this abuse throughout the play," she says. David Esbjornson, who directed the original New York production in 1999, has said that it was politically difficult. "People were blown out of their seats. Some people walked out," he said. "The story was harsh and brutal, but very honest."

Parks has said of her characters: "I'm not interested in judging them, or having the reader judge them. I'm interested in showing them." So what does the company hope those walking out will walk away with? Bright says the cliché, "If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem," holds true here. "In this production everyone is part of the problem. So is it an 'I am my brother's keeper' or is it an 'Every man for himself?' It's up to you to decide but this play clearly says to me that I am my brother's keeper. Some people can't pull themselves up, you've got to help them, and anything you're doing that is not helping them is pushing them down."

Winstead hopes audiences will take away "a sense that it's not always the person who's in the system's fault." She'd like to see people have fun with the satire, but leave with something more. "It's about compassion and empathy and not looking at this person as other," she says. "This could happen to you." •

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