Eric T. Miller and Jamie Dunn in Sweet Storm
(© Monique Carboni)
Eric T. Miller and Jamie Dunn in Sweet Storm
(© Monique Carboni)
All the ingredients are there: The taut bodies; the Southern accents; the period setting; the gentle sounds of rain; even the title -- Sweet Storm. You keep waiting for them all to be squished together into romantic pulp, but playwright Scott Hudson has something gentler and less generic in mind for his debut play, now at the Kirk Theatre: a genuine, honest-to-God love story.

Hudson (a member of the LAByrinth Theatre Company) has parked that story, by the way, in about the most adorable place possible: up a tree. The play's opening image has Bo (Eric T. Miller) carrying his new bride Ruthie (Jamie Dunn) up a ladder and into their "honeymoon suite": a tree house that he's built just for the occasion (sensitively designed by Lea Umberger).

Since Ruthie's still in her wedding dress, and since it's traditional for the groom to carry her across the threshold, it takes a couple of minutes for us to realize she can't walk. (Our first clue should be that he gets her a bedpan when she says she needs to "wee"; but then again, it's not like most tree houses have indoor plumbing.)

Hudson plays a game of brinksmanship both with his characters and his situation. He keeps pushing them onto the verge of cliche -- for example, Bo's a preacher and Ruthie doubts her faith -- but all is redeemed through the specifics of the writing and playing. In particular, Miller's southern gentleman is a marvel; he's utterly good and yet so much more than a boring romantic fantasy.

True, there are moments when the slight script seems stretched a bit thin -- and the play could probably do without the last bit of mild melodrama -- but Hudson sees this relationship with remarkably clear eyes and makes it felt with remarkably clear force. Aided by Padraic Lillis' lovely, transparent direction, he has pulled off a decidedly tricky balancing act with aplomb.