Marylouise Burke, Rebecca Nelson, Guy Boyd, andDaniel Talbott in Now That's What I Call a Storm(Photo © S. McGee)
Marylouise Burke, Rebecca Nelson, Guy Boyd, and
Daniel Talbott in Now That's What I Call a Storm
(Photo © S. McGee)
There's a dead body in the garage, strewn over cans of soda pop. Inside, the parents of the deceased are cooking up beefsteaks and spaghetti for their neighbors, who have dropped by on the night of the worst snowstorm in Minnesota history. This is the setup for Ann Marie Healy's quirky but uneven Now That's What I Call a Storm, the latest world premiere production from the enterprising Edge Theater Company.

The dark comedy gets off to a rough start with an opening scene that is neither funny nor dramatically compelling. Nanette (Marylouise Burke) sits wrapped in a shawl while her husband Boots (Daniel Ahearn) makes inane conversation and repeatedly goes out to shovel the walkway. It isn't until he enters the garage and finds the body of his dead daughter, which Nanette has already seen, that the play really begins.

Was this death the result of a suicide or a murder? That's unclear at first, as is the reason for Nanette's reaction -- or lack of same -- in regard to the body's discovery. She invites her neighbors Arne (Guy Boyd) and Janice (Rebecca Nelson) in out of the cold, and their chatter is ever so polite and meaningless. Boots and Nanette make no mention of their dead daughter; instead, they talk about buying winter homes and reminisce about old times. Again, Healy takes too long with the setup and the dialogue begins to drag.

The play becomes more provocative as the layers of civility are peeled away. Nanette is constantly questioning, though it's unclear if she's looking for clues to explain her daughter's death or for reasons why her life turned out the way that it did. Burke, who seems to revel in the delightfully offbeat roles that she's usually given, walks the line between making Nanette appear unhinged and portraying her as simply desperate for answers.

Ahearn never quite comes up with a believable character, not even within the broadly farcical structure of the play. The audience is meant to think that he's grieving underneath his outward veneer but his emotions seem to be indicated more than felt. Boyd, on the other hand, convincingly creates an inner life for Arne that belies his rough exterior; a quiet scene between him and Burke as their characters develop an unlikely rapport is extremely poignant. Nelson is too shrill at first but eventually brings some depth to her role and thereby prevents it from becoming a caricature.

Rounding out the cast are Ted Schneider and Daniel Talbott as Justin and Joseph, the college-aged sons of Arne and Janice. Schneider's Minnesota accent could use some work -- often, he sounds rather Irish -- but he's quite amusing as Justin politely answers the seemingly nonsensical questions that Nanette asks him. The dialogue between them nicely captures the awkwardness of situations where young people are forced into conversations with their parents' friends.

Talbott, whose initial appearance as Joseph is almost entirely non-verbal, nevertheless manages to make a good impression. He has an undeniable presence and sense of character that makes the simple act of eating a brownie both riveting and hilarious. Later in the play, when he finally speaks more than a couple of words at a time, he is endearingly sincere. (Joseph turns out to be the catalyst for the play's emotional breakthrough.)

David Korins's set captures the look of a comfy Midwestern domestic interior and the ring of "snow" that surrounds it nicely reflects the script's somewhat expressionistic style. Mark Barton's lighting design, keyed to onstage light sources such as a lamp, is effective, and Junghyun Georgia Lee's costumes are appropriate to each character.

Directed by Carolyn Cantor, the stage action often appears rather static and the pace is slow at times. Now That's What I Call a Storm comes together brilliantly in its last 15 minutes and ends strongly with at least a partial explanation for the meandering dialogue and for Nanette's odd behavior. Still, one is left with the impression that the play would have greater impact if it were judiciously edited.