Friday, March 27, 2009

'Warmth of the Cold' hits close to home

M&D's latest production set in Berlin, N.H.

M&D Productions’ latest show opened Thursday at Your Theatre in Willow Common in North Conway, and it hits close to home. “The Warmth of the Cold” is a family drama set in Berlin, New Hampshire during the year’s worst snowstorm.

The play, directed by Neil Pankhurst of the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, deals with issues perhaps all too familiar: the closing of a mill and the devastating effect it can have on a family. The press materials released for the show quoted the Tennessee Williams’ expression, “the thundercloud of a common crisis.”

The evocation of Williams’ work is an accurate one as New Hampshire playwright Lowell Williams’ script deals with a dysfunctional family very much in the same way Tennessee Williams did in such works as “The Glass Menagerie,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Each member of the family has a different reaction to the mill closing. Hal (Dan Tetreault), the husband and father, takes to the road as a truck driver to support his family. Carol (Rae McCarey), the mother and wife, becomes mentally unstable, forever clinging to the idea that the mill will reopen.

Daughter Samantha (Katie Gustafson) retreats into her studies in hopes of earning a college scholarship. Son Robbie (Kyle Mulcahy) feels the pressure to be the man of the house in his father’s absence and takes a path of easy money to help support his family.

There is a major plot point and reoccurring theme that wouldn’t be fair to reveal here because its discovery within the play is something the audience should not be robbed of. It does make discussing some of the finer details of the play more difficult.

The dynamic between the two siblings is an interesting one, which is a polite way of saying their relationship will make people ill at ease. Robbie is very emotionally dependent on Samantha, and the idea of her leaving leads to some vehement arguments.

Although her children are in their teens, Carol is far more childlike than they are, in think in a complete role reversal they often send her to her room. Carol’s mental state has good days and bad days and Robbie placates and feeds into his mother’s fantasies, which becomes another point of confrontation with Samantha.

All the performances are first rate. These actors are dealing with heavy emotions and are involved in intense scenes that leave them exposed and vulnerable. There is a good deal of shouting in the play, and there is a danger of actors coming off as shrill or simply yelling instead of getting at the emotion behind the screaming, but that is definitely not the case here.

McCarey does a good job portraying Carol’s mental instability in a way that doesn’t become cheap, over-the-top or insincere. It is a sympathetic portrayal that should make audiences care about her.

Mulcahy plays Robbie’s struggle to keep his family together well. You can sense the pressure to stay strong for his family tearing at him until, in a pair of climatic scenes in the second act, he can no longer hold it together.

Gustafson’s Samantha is the play’s most stable character, but even she struggles with insecurities that she won’t be able to get into college. Samantha fears she will be stuck in town working at Wal-Mart for the rest of her life. Gustafson registers these fears in subtle ways such as a facial expression or the way she carries herself.

Tetreault’s Hal is romanticized for much of the play as being a great husband and father, but it is revealed in a flashback with Mulcahy that he was far from perfect. His ideas of how men and women should interact were outmoded. Tetreault is effective at hinting at Hal’s darker side behind a seemingly ideal façade.

“The Warmth of the Cold” is a challenging night of theater, but one with rewards for those that accept the challenge. For tickets or information call 662-7591 or e-mail

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