‘Deal with the Devil’: Harvard Medical School Faculty Grapple with Increased Industry Research Funding


As Dean Long’s Departure Looms, Harvard President Garber To Appoint Interim HGSE Dean


Harvard Students Rally in Solidarity with Pro-Palestine MIT Encampment Amid National Campus Turmoil


Attorneys Present Closing Arguments in Wrongful Death Trial Against CAMHS Employee


Harvard President Garber Declines To Rule Out Police Response To Campus Protests

Simplified Souls

'Strange Snow' opens in Leverett House

By Maurie Samuels

The Vietnam War is a popular subject these days. Hollywood (especially Oliver Stone) and the general public seem virtually obsessed with the war and its aftermath. Indeed, the entire Vietnam experience has been so painstakingly scrutinized lately that any further attempt to probe its horrors bears the onus of showing us something innovative. Unfortunately, the well-intentioned and well-executed Leverett House production of Strange Snow fails to offer insights fresh enough to shock us out of our complacency--and growing boredom--with the subject.

Much of the blame lies with Stephen Metcalfe's predictable, often trite script. The story unfolds as the exuberant Megs, sincerely played by Tom Chick, arrives early one spring morning to take his old buddy Dave, played by a more reserved yet no less convincing Jeff Branion, out for the opening day of fishing.

Dave is in bed with a hangover, so his sister Martha (Kelly Matthews), a prim and proper school teacher greets the caller. She gradually becomes enchanted by his crudely poetic speech and endearing vulnerability. The rest of the play centers around the blossoming affection between Martha and Megs and the disapproval of the selfish Dave.

Megs and Dave are polar opposites: the former is vibrant and optimistic, the latter depressive and nihilistic. These essential traits are elaborated endlessly. While the director, Carl "B.J." Fox, does an admirable job of shaping the characters, right down to their table manners and posture, the overall characterization is far too heavy-handed.

The punch in the play supposedly comes when we discover that Megs and Dave are Vietnam vets. and their opposing life attitudes represent different reactions to the horrors of death they witnessed in the war.

The mentions of Vietnam, frequently--thanks to the skillful acting of both men--chilling, do not compensate for the simple and poorly-drawn characterizations. Metcalfe's characters are transparent. They constantly describe themselves and each other in terms that leave little room for the actor's nuance or the audience's imagination. Megs is a prime offender. At one point he tells Martha, "I'm like an elephant, short on smarts, long on memory."

And when Martha describes her inferiority complex to her unsympathetic brother, we wonder why someone with such insight into her own problems has allowed herself to accept a humiliating, degrading station in life. "My so-called standards are what I've hidden behind to salvage my self-respect," she tells Dave, but her words sound artificial.

Metcalfe frequently contrasts the selfless and courteous nature of Megs to the chauvinistic and abusive nature of Dave. He does not forget to also compare and contrast Dave and Megs. Meg helps Martha with dishes; Dave strews his empty beer cans around the house.

Martha, obviously, is viewed solely through her interaction with two men. It's hard to admire a woman character who so pathetically waits for one man to rescue her from the tyranny of another. Martha is the embodiment of the most basic and unflattering female stereotypes: she is "frigid" and servile, a "mother" to stray animals who is cannot care for herself or control her own destiny. Matthews valiantly tries to infuse her character with a little self-possessed dignity. She has trouble pulling it off, though, because her lines are feeble. "You make me want to laugh and cry at the same time," Martha tells Megs. The audience wants to also, but for different reasons.

Happily, Fox's straightforward directing style manages to make an annoying script into an enjoyable piece of theater. There are many nice touches, from the way Martha and Megs eat their soup to the strain on Megs' face as he carries his drunk and much bigger "buddy" across the stage. If the story is entirely predictable from the first few minutes of the play, all three actors do a good job of bringing their characters to life.

This holds true even during difficult scenes like the Vietnam flashback sequences. The overall effect is life affirming and at times, funny.

These may sound like the perfect ingredients of a Hollywood story, and in fact, Strange Snow was recently made into a film called Jacknife, starring Robert DeNiro. I did not see this film, so I cannot make any comparative assessments. But it seems as if Metcalfe's script might work better on the screen, which could lend a larger-than-life aura to this simplistic and somewhat thin story. Despite the generally good acting in the Leverett House production, descriptions of the war and the pain of remembering it might seem more convincing coming from Robert DeNiro rather than a Harvard undergraduate.

I do not mean to imply that Harvard students should not attempt plays about Vietnam simply because they did not experience it, but I question the the wisdom of choosing a relatively realistic drama that relies on the audience's identification with the dramatic situation. It would be more interesting for me to watch a play that calls attention to our distance from the reality of Vietnam.

Perhaps Fox should have chosen a more challenging play and let Strange Snow stay in Hollywood, where it belongs.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.