Review: Severe Weather Warning, A Wild Comedy by Theatre en Bloc
by Michael Meigs
Elizabeth Doss's Severe Weather Warning uses the trope of friends meeting for an annual reunion to plant us at a decisive date in the friendships of these four women, a decade and a half after they attended school together. It's a familiar plot device -- used, for example, by Hope, Jones and Wooten in their 2008 The Dixie Swim Club, a community theatre favorite, or in the 1978 Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade, done by community theatres that like a bit more frisson. Those works portray their protagonists at different times, progressing through their life cycles.
Doss focuses on a single weekend, so the opening scenes of this ninety-minute one-act are charged with a load of exposition. Most of it is done gracefully. One might wonder why certain resentments didn't get worked out or forgotten a decade earlier -- Adel, born poor but now a bustling entrepreneur, carps incessantly at trust fund girl Agatha, who's done nothing to deserve it other than to have family money. Doss works that out for them, of course, with applications of wine and other loosening-up exercises.
Director Jenny Lavery has recruited fine talent and some familiar faces. Giselle Marie Muñoz as Anne is an earth mother without the hippie garb, attentive to her friends; Kacey Samiee, so memorable recently in Gabriel Jason Dean's Heartland, is Annette, furiously silent and in emotional crisis; Leslie McDonel is trust fund baby Agatha, a devotee of yoga and meditation; and welcome transplant from Los Angeles Charlotte Gulezian is a pugnacious, raspy-voiced go-gether. It's good that Doss defines these personalities well in the give-and-take of dialogue and that the women are physically different from one another; the playwright thought it droll to give each of them a first name starting with "A," thereby breaking with happy abandon one of the basic rules of Playwriting 101.
Language emphasizes the play's contemporary setting and emphatic though not belligerant feminism. These characters are unlikely to be appearing in community theatres anytime soon, not even those who like frissons, for they fling about "fuck" and "fucking" with abandon, especially once the party gets started. It's fun, it's fast, it's unpredictable.
It's easy to accept these characters as credible and firmly established in today's contemporary morés. With the heart-to-heart exchanges, partying, group dynamics and discoveries, Severe Weather Warning entertains but at the same time examines the dilemmas in this society of being a grown but not yet middle-aged woman. A marriage in crisis; a woman so sunk in the duties of motherhood and caring for others that her own being has dissolved; another who's pulling away from the familiar and perhaps will never return; a friend who's contented but apparently completely aimless.
Director and designers put a panicked end to this reunion with the storm that rolls in across the remote beach cottage. The serenity of the tidy box set by Cheraya Esthers, Sam Grimes and Jenny Lavery is ripped apart by strobe effects, tearing plastic sheeting and roaring thunder. That storm can be read as symbolic, but there's no heavy-handed message pushed into our faces.
Instead, in a beautifully delicate monologue by Muñoz followed by a trio address to the audience, playwright Doss neatly delivers with this single-setting, single-weekend event a message similar to those delivered by earlier playwrights: friendship is what makes us human, and being human means we are prisoners of the relentless passage of time.
April 25 - May 05, 2019
701 Riverside at South First,
Austin, TX, 78704
SEVERE WEATHER WARNING @ The Rollins, Long Center
April 25 - May 5, 2019 | TWO WEEKS ONLY!
Performances Wednesdays - Sundays at 8 pm
Tickets $15 - $34 plus service fees, available via Long Center Box Office