The Storm Testament
"The Storm Testament," at The Villa Playhouse Theatre
by Eric D. Snider
Published on October 3, 1997
Lee Nelson's "The Storm Testament," a series of novels, may be good, but the play based on those books is not.
OK, I'll stop beating around the bush. The Villa Playhouse Theatre in Springville is not known for doing Broadway-quality plays anyway, but that's fine. "Harvey," the last production there, while lacking in many technical aspects, was still charming in its small-town simplicity. Plus, the script itself was cute and amusing, and the show was at least enjoyable.
"The Storm Testament" falls short on all those points. Not only is the script heavy-handed and serious, but this production of it lacks the joy and enthusiasm that are usually the saving grace of a community theater show. What is often lacking in acting ability and production values can be made up for with sheer zeal -- but there is no such zeal in "The Storm Testament." Simply put, the show is not enjoyable to watch.
The show is only two hours long, but it is an extremely long two hours. Things plod along at a very slow rate, with little emotion or vigor from the cast members to keep one's interest. Even when exciting things are happening -- boat wrecks, Indian attacks, etc. -- the tone is muted and ambivalent, and major events manage to pass by virtually unnoticed.
The best thing about this show is Clay Elder, who plays the main character, Dan Storm. This young man -- a teen-ager, by the looks of him -- is an exceptional actor, and he stands almost alone in that regard. Without his acting skill and likable stage presence, the show would be absolutely unbearable.
The novels on which this play is based are full of action and adventure as young Dan Storm makes his way around the American frontier of the late 1830s. Naturally, much of this action is going to be lost when you move it to the stage. Unfortunately, there's little else to take its place. The plot is negligible, the characters are two-dimensional; I haven't read the books, but I'm guessing the action was the main reason people like them. If there's more to it than that, it definitely got lost in the translation.
You sort of have to admire a local theater for even attempting a serious drama like this, but there's something they need to realize, too. While comedy is harder to perform than drama, it's also much easier to make a comedy entertaining. With a comedy, the basic structure and characters are liable to at least be interesting to the audience, even if you don't do a good job of making them funny. But with a drama, if you don't do it well -- what's left to recommend it? Drama can only be engaging if it has emotional impact. If you don't have the local resources to produce that impact, then you shouldn't do a drama.
Better luck next time, Springville.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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