Boots and Nanette appear to be your typical Midwestern couple, staving off the doldrums of winter by constantly shoveling the snow out of the driveway while planning their next beefsteak and spaghetti dinner.
The wind is a whistlin’ and the snow is a fallin’ and Boots simply doesn’t know what to do with himself—and so he walks in and out of his cozy hovel, layering his tall lanky frame with a pillowed down jacket that he will inevitably take off, only to put back on again. Nanette, meanwhile, stares blankly ahead, preparing for yet another winter storm; she’s been through these chilling months a million times before. Or has she? There’s something terrible in the garage next to a carton of soda "pap," as these folks like to say, something that accounts for Nanette’s eerie and forlorn silences.
Ann Marie Healy’s new play, Now That’s What I Call a Storm, opens a can of fizzy soda from the get go: it seems Boots and Nanette’s beloved young daughter Rosemary has just killed herself in her parent’s garage next to a six-pack of Diet A&W. It’s a stunning revelation to discover so early on, and it is this quandary that sets the narrative on its urgent, though sometimes uneven, journey.
A devastated Nanette quickly turns into a bundle of wry, nervous energy upon the arrival of neighbors Arnie and Janice, who Nanette entices inside for a quick meal. Arnie and Janice have already dined at the Supper Club, it seems, but no matter. When the snow piles this high, there’s really nothing better to do.
Ms. Healy sets upon an ambitious and interesting path—slipping the dramatic charge of a grim secret into a perfectly toned portrait of the dull monotony of middle class suburbia. Boots and Nanette spend much of the time pretending that absolutely everything is well and good, especially in front of their guests. As the night progresses, however, they become all the more desperate to keep their visitors’ company, lest they should be left alone to confront the situation at hand.
Unwittingly, of course, it is this very company who will lead them to question and face who their daughter really was. When Arnie and Janice’s two sons join the foursome, Nanette becomes belligerent in her quest to discover what Rosemary’s peers knew about her daughter. Both boys are your typical eye-rolling teenagers, their time too precious to be spent dawdling about with their elders. Yet the little they know about Rosemary, the friends she had, or lack thereof, become a precious commodity to Rosemary’s parents.
The subject of suicide is a somber backdrop, though Ms. Healy’s play is actually quite lighthearted in moments, an attribute which is both her blessing and her curse. Her quick-witted and repetitive language creates familiar and bitingly humoristic domestic scenarios. Rarely do characters ever really listen to each other, and when a pregnant pause becomes too pregnant, someone is apt to repeat the last thing said, to fill the silence and avoid discomfort. In another spot-on turn, Nanette is repeatedly corrected every time she refers to the two brothers as twins—sure, they have a fair enough resemblance, but you would think that after a handful of reminders she could get these siblings straight.
It is these acute observations, these extenuating conflicts, that register the most here. What we’re ultimately presented with is a successful study of two quirky households, yet whether their fragile nature is truly due to Rosemary’s suicide—a fact we can’t ignore—remains dubious.
Still, MaryLouise Burke turns in an exemplary performance, capturing Nanette’s frantic uneasiness with a finesse that seldom seems so natural on stage. She dashes about the living room like a wood sprite, her chatter high and nasal, her hands excitedly jittery. Burke’s subtle physical touches give a genuine subtext to the play—although the audience may not always buy into the severity of this family’s plight, Burke certainly has. Guy Boyd is also a standout—he’s like your black sheep uncle who laughs a little too loudly at the wrong things and stays well past his welcome. He’s got an affection for food, and you can practically hear his belly rumble as he puts down a few chocolate bars.
Recognizing such vivid characterizations shows that this playwright can find humor in the most banal interactions. Yet the tragic element she has set forth seems incomplete and unrealized. In the end, the situation seems less of a storm, really, than just plain old bad weather.
Now That’s What I Call A Storm,
by Ann Marie Healy, directed by Carolyn Cantor
presented by Edge Theater Company, at Blue Heron Arts Center 123 E. 24th St., Manhattan, through May 22nd
Tickets: $15 through May 1; $40 May 2-22, 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
CHRISTY HUTCHCRAFT is a writer living in Brooklyn.