Encore Michigan

Penny Seats’ ‘First Snow’ warms up old flames

Review December 07, 2022 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, Mich–Christmas for many of us is about the time we spend with family…and friends, old and not so old; the friends we have made in our adult lives and the friends we made when were kids.

But, of course, relationships with legacies and baggage are complex. And that is what First Snow, a world premiere from playwright Joeeph Zettelmaier and presented by The Penny Seats is about.

Lisa Marconi (Josi Eli Herman)  is having a party, and has invited an old high school flame, Evan (Michael Alan Herman), and they are expecting the third pal from their close trio from ten years earlier, Bob (Jonathan Jones) and his wife Nora (Celah Convis). Also on the scene is Lisa’s ten-year old daughter Natalie (Patrice Linman). It is supposed to be a party with lots of people. But it becomes evident that this is a carefully arranged gathering of specific people by Lisa to settle something. Evan has been away for a decade, and had left his closest friends suddenly and without explanation following the death of his parents in a car crash.

Old friends often have complicated relationships, complicated stories and complicated feelings for one another because so much is happening during those formative high school years to their minds and bodies. It is the beginning of their lives in high school, and roots form.

A heavy snow, the first of the season, is falling after the gathering begins, which is useful because it prevents anyone from leaving for a while. Lisa’s agenda must and will play out no matter how many scabs it picks.

The cast, directed by Amanda Buchalter in her professional directing debut, is excellent. Mr. Herman understands how to be awkward like few actors do–awkward with his life, his past, his present. He is a man who is never in proper focus in his own mirror. Ms. Herman plays Lisa as a slightly nervous but earthy soul with an issue to solve. Mr. Jones does a very good job with Zettelmaier’s character of Bob who wears the fact that he never left his hometown and isn’t 100% comfortable with his lot in life. Ms. Convis grabs hold of every scene she is in with a great sense of comedic timing as a sort of spare wheel to the other three who were so close in high school. She gets very believably tipsy and plays that sequence perfectly. She was not part of the trio who were in band together, so she resides on the outer edge of the drama. Finally, Ms. Linman is exceptional at playing a nine-year old despite her being a college graduate. The pajamas she wears throughout is a help in fixing her adolescence, but her ability to age herself downward is what makes it work.

Zettlemaier’s dialogue is crisp and his characters well assembled for a tight, compelling arc. The payoff is not entirely a surprise. But that’s okay, because he has written a compelling journey to get us there.

Kylie Bushman is sound designer. Tim Pollack’s set design of a small-town living room inhabited by a teacher and her daughter is right in every corner. TyChi is lighting designer. Lauren London is producer.

is not a barn-burner of emotion. It is more like a slow burn. It is a compelling story, though, about things we ought not to run away from, like where we come from, who we are and the close friends who love us.

First Snow plays through December 18 at The Stone Chalet in Ann Arbor. Ticket info and showtimes are at Pennyseats.org

Week of 9/25/2023

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