Sweet, Old-Timey Matrimony

07/08/2009 4:00 AM |

Will they or won’t they? A lot of different people will tell you that what a play needs in order to succeed is conflict. And there’s plenty of conflict in Scott Hudson’s play Sweet Storm—disagreements with god, differences of opinion about what a marriage is going to be, differences of opinion about what should and shouldn’t be revealed to family and townsfolk. But the real thing that sustains the tension in this play has little to do with any of those conflicts and much more to do with the question of whether or not the newlywed couple at the center of the play are going to consummate their marriage on this, their wedding night.

The play takes place in a rural part of Florida in the 1960s and the couple is of a deeply religious bent—Bo (Eric T. Miller) is a preacher—so there’s no need to belabor their purity. That innocence provides the minor layer of tension to the will they or won’t they question, but the major layer comes from the fact that Ruthie (Jamie Dunn) hasn’t got the use of her legs, or presumably anything else below her waist, after a recent bout with polio. They’ve obviously never had the talk with each other about what may or may not be possible or welcome, and in some way, all the other things they talk about are maneuvers to get closer to, or farther from, that particular conversation.

Considering that sex is at the center of the thing, the play manages to avoid being lurid, over-stimulated, or depraved. The couple’s love seems genuine, earnest and surprisingly pleasant to watch. So much of straight-up theater is couples breaking each other down or clawing at one another after their relationships have been ravaged by psychology or circumstance. Or if it’s a contemporary tale of love it’s focused on how much the characters fall short of each other’s hopes and needs. The couple at the center of this play is a balmy reminder of how intoxicating the ideal of innocent, romantic love still is.

Bo fell in love with Ruthie when she was able-bodied, and his feelings haven’t quit since her illness. Both of them have a healthy desire for one another, his more articulate than hers. She spends most of the play dissembling, bringing up other problems, worrying about their future, and being pissed off with god. But the whole religion thing, despite Bo’s vocation, seems a little less considered than the marriage. Neither of them articulate a relationship with their faith that transcends the circumstances—he’s had trouble answering difficult questions for his parishioners and she’s pissed off that she’s crippled. It only serves as another minor trial for them to overcome before they decide whether or not they can get right with each other.

It holds the audience—their love, their struggle to articulate their desire and overcome the immediate circumstance. It’s straight-up good old fashioned theater—speeches, crying, storytelling, and a burning question at its core. Like any good piece of drama, it made me wonder what I would have done in that situation. It made me wonder if people really do love each other like that—with all that youth and earnestness and commitment and all those grand gestures. God bless ‘em.

It’s a nice play, it just seems a little old fashioned. I left feeling like I’d seen a decent piece of theater, but I’m not sure there was a strong takeaway, or that it sparked strong questions or new reflections on the world. It’s the story of two people at a specific moment in their history, a history that’s far away from our 21st century distractions. But it was a pleasant 75 minutes, like hearing the story of how your parents met (if they were a happy couple). And if you care about the people telling a story like that then it usually means something special to you.

(photo credit: Monique Carboni)