By Martin F. Kohn
“Snowbound” is set in an isolated cabin in the Colorado Rockies in 1873 and, as the wind picks up and the food supply dwindles, you might think that somebody is going to be eaten. You’d be wrong, but as Margaret Edwartowski’s play illustrates, there is more than one way to be confined and more than one way to be consumed.
An old-fashioned melodrama with higher aspirations – long on plot, short on character development – that could almost have been written in 1873, “Snowbound” began its life as a late night one-act at Planet Ant Theatre in 2010. It received so many plaudits that Edwartowski has written a second act and, now under Kate Peckham’s direction, “Snowbound” is back at Planet Ant as a full-length play in prime time.
Its what-will-happen-next factor is nearly off the charts. Living in the cabin are John (Stephen Blackwell), his 17-year-old sister, Sara (Jaclyn Strez), their grandmother Evaline (Nancy Arnfield) and John’s infant daughter, Mary (a doll and sound effects). John’s wife has died in childbirth, his and Sara’s parents have also died, and John’s heart is so hardened by grief and rage that he has become abusive toward whomever is left.
We first meet them before the snow falls. Granny Evaline yammers incessantly about her genteel and prosperous upbringing, an echo, conscious or not, of Amanda Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie,” even down to the plethora of gentleman callers who would follow her home. As it happens, John brings home a sort of gentleman caller, his friend Wil Starkey (John Ager), a farmer from down the mountain who is clearly in love with Sara, and she with him.
Wil invites the whole family to move down to his place for the winter, but John won’t have any charity. Later, as winter sets in but before travel becomes impossible, Wil returns to the cabin to find Granny seriously ill, Sara weakened and John missing. Wil repeats his offer, but his horse can’t carry everyone, which presents a life-and-death moral dilemma whose resolution will not be disclosed here.
Suffice it to say that if everyone dies, there would be no second act. In act two, those who survive act one face the consequences – and the future. This is where things get almost embarrassingly contrived. Nineteenth-Century novelists like Thomas Hardy or the Bronte sisters could pull off embarrassingly contrived; 21st-Century playwrights, not so much.
Peckham maintains a precise degree of tension; her staging is neither too fast nor too slow. Ager, whose character, Wil, is the most fully developed, has the chance to play more than one emotion at a time and makes the most of the opportunity. The other actors are more constrained, but fight the good fight in varying quantities.
Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff St., Hamtramck. Friday-Sunday through March 10 (except Feb. 19), plus Tuesday, Feb. 28. $20. 313-365-4948. http://www.planetant.com