Peggy Sue Dunigan

Mercy of a Storm

By - Dec 1st, 2006 02:52 pm
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By Peggy Sue Dunigan

New Year’s Eve, 1945. Snow is falling furiously, it’s almost midnight. George and Zanovia find the two hours preceding 1946 in a Midwest country club pool house to be infinitely colder than the weather outside in Mercy of a Storm, Next Act Theatre’s production that opened November 19.

This performance spends a fascinating two hours dissecting a relationship struggling with love’s long awaited fulfillment and how to live with that love, elusive amidst the realities of day-to-day life. Social discrimination, prejudice, and family loyalties are all handled with a touch of humor and wit while this couple storms the pool house with anger and passion. Mary MacDonald Kerr, in her directorial debut, captures all the sexual tension, twists and turns in the script, and the touching, tender love George and Zanovia have for one another despite the events that could destroy them both. As Zanovia so aptly puts it in the second act, “I don’t want romance, I want love.”

Romance vs. love. Cold outside (the winter weather) vs. warm inside (the summer pool house). Wealth vs. working class. Old vs. young. Divorce vs. marriage. This play is a study in contrasts that give the play contemporary meaning in a period setting. Jeffrey Hatcher, an accomplished playwright whose work has previously been produced on Milwaukee stages, subtly captures the conflicts of each contrast, with little resolution, through cleverly and passionately written dialogue. Everything is filtered through the personalities of George and Zanovia, both flawed and hurting, as Hatcher creates characters that he and the audience care about.

James Pickering, in a welcome return to Next Act, is a wonderful George, displaying a depth in both his love for Zanovia and his daughter, Tootie. His ambiguity is palpable. Following an outstanding performance in the Stiemke’s Half-Life, Pickering again recreates a believable romantic lead through a unique role.

Abbey Siegworth, as Zanovia, matches Pickering’s moves heartbeat to heartbeat as their emotions fluctuate between hot and cold. Her sassy sensuality coupled with genuine affection and compassion for George illuminates the stage. Pickering and Siegworth have a chemistry that evolves throughout the two acts.

Chemistry is the key word that both charms and challenges in this production: between director and actors, script and performance and a beautifully recreated 1940’s set and the intimate stage. With Wisconsin’s winter weather turning colder outside, George and Zanovia heat up the inside of the Off Broadway Theatre for an exhilarating evening. As the play comes to a close with yet another one of its exciting twists, Zanovia enters the pool house for a final moment, seeking comfort and says, “It’s cold out there.” Next Act Theatre’s Mercy of a Storm ultimately warms the heart with the premise that it can be a cruel, cold world, inside and out, without one love worth fighting for.VS

Mercy of a Storm continues through December 17 at the Off Broadway Theatre, 342 North Water Street. Contact www.nextact.org or 414-278-0765 for information or tickets.

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