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Late night drama stuns at Planet Ant

By |2018-01-16T15:08:49-05:00January 14th, 2010|Entertainment|

While bible-thumpers and “throw-the-book-at-them” jurists may tell you that certain Judeo-Christian and legal pronouncements are immutable, those of us living in the real world understand that life is not all black and white or good and evil. Rather, our day-to-day journey is filled with limitless shades of gray – and that reasonable people, while guided by those long-held principles, may have to make shocking and life-altering decisions that run contrary to the rules society holds dear.
That’s the dilemma playwright Margaret Edwartowski examines in “Snowbound,” the stunning and powerful late-night drama now playing at Planet Ant Theatre.
Set in 1870, what’s left of the once-proud Adler family struggles to survive another brutal winter in their remote cabin on a mountain near Central City, Colorado. Evaline (Connie Cowper) and her now-deceased husband arrived years earlier in search of gold, but a rough existence has reduced the family to her grandchildren Sara (Jenny Tocco) and John (Stephen Blackwell), whose wife recently died giving birth to their daughter.
When friend and local farmer Wil Starkey (Jon Ager) arrives with an offer to relocate the near-starving family to his home near town for the winter, John refuses his charity – despite his sister’s plea to accept it. Weeks later, as the heavy snows arrive, Wil returns and finds the Adlers in bad shape. With little time to leave before the pass gets cut off by the inclement weather, tough decisions must be made – or all will likely starve or freeze to death by winter’s end.
It’s a horrifying situation, which playwright Edwartowski pulls no punches exploring. Few decisions we make in our lifetimes are truly life-or-death resulting, but that’s what her characters face in “Snowbound” – and their various reactions to their situation are as realistic as one could imagine. For Edwartowski, whose name and reputation in the local theater community come from her work in comedies and improv – her first attempt at crafting a well-told drama is near flawless.
She’s assisted by strong direction by Michael Carnow and top-notch performances by his cast.
Blackwell nails the character of John from his initial appearance to his inevitable finish, while Tocco rides Sara’s roller-coaster of emotions with precision. Ager, who continues to impress with a wide variety of roles in recent seasons, has the story’s least-developed (and least interesting) character, but still manages to find and reveal Wil’s heart, compassion and strength.
But it’s Cowper who storms the stage as the addled and aged Evaline and never drifts. It’s a difficult role, easily played for laughs, but an impressive Cowper gives a dignified performance, and, as a result, generates much sympathy for her character.
Also outstanding is the set design by Michelle Becker – one of the best seen at Planet Ant in recent memory.
Direction by Carnow is slick and passionate, but two staging decisions are rather curious and problematic. During the play’s final, climactic encounter, Sara and Wil are standing in front of the door while an enraged John threatens their lives. Most sane people would have simply opened the door and fled – which, of course, would require a somewhat different ending to the show. But they didn’t; instead they moved farther into the room, effectively cutting themselves off from a timely and safe exit. (It would make far more sense for them to already BE away from the door when that part of the scene begins.) And secondly, Blackwell’s final moments downstage on the floor can’t be seen by those sitting in the upper rows.

A Late Night show at Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff St., Hamtramck. 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Jan. 23. $10. 313-365-4948.

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