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'Sweet Storm' at Tampa's Gorilla Theatre is refreshing but over too soon

TAMPA — The most obvious flaw of Scott Hudson's play The Sweet Storm is its brevity.

Hudson has given us a simple and charming play with two appealing characters, based on his own parents, on their wedding night in 1960. The husband is an aspiring preacher; the wife has lost the use of her legs to polio.

They're in love but ill at ease. What the husband sees as a grand romantic gesture — he has built a honeymoon tree house in the woods near Lithia Springs and stocked it with Coca-Cola — disappoints his bride, who dreamed of a fancy wedding and a Clearwater honeymoon.

The play, just over an hour long, unfolds in real time, in one masterfully written conversation about the couple's hopes and fears. The groom's religious faith makes him unwavering in optimism but bewildered by his bride's trepidation about his plan to live in the wilderness.

We can hear rain outside the tree house throughout the play, and at the end we learn that Hurricane Donna is approaching.

The ending is sufficiently satisfying, but the characters are so fresh and intriguing that you're left wanting to know what happens hours, days or even years after that night.

Hudson grew up in the Brandon area, and longtime local theater educator James Rayfield was his teacher at Brandon High School. Rayfield directed this staging of The Sweet Storm, which was previously produced in New York to positive reviews.

Rayfield and actors Chris Jackson and Heather Atkinson have obvious affection for Hudson's characters. Jake Kavenagh has designed a gorgeous and effective semi-realistic set, with the walls of the tree house interrupted by the shadowy limbs of a live oak tree, and Lynne Locher's sound design offers a steady rain that provides a romantic underscore but still hints at a coming storm.

Both actors add immeasurably to the charm of the characters and the play. Jackson, most recently seen in a trio of Harold Pinter one-acts presented by Revolve Theater Company, is likably blank and bewildered.

The wife is much more emotionally dynamic, and Atkinson sells that full range of emotion, even though she's sitting almost motionless on the bed for virtually the entire play.

More impressive than the individual performances, though, is the sense of intimacy that's evident from the characters' first moments on stage. You can feel the history that has brought this couple to this moment.

The Sweet Storm might be considered slight. It's certainly intimate, in every sense of the word, and it doesn't pretend to be grandiose in its scope or its statement. But it's refreshing and almost poignant. If Hudson ever sees fit to add a second act and allow us to revisit his characters, it might be even better.

. fast facts

The Sweet Storm

The production continues through March 20 at Gorilla Theatre, 4419 N Hubert Ave. in Tampa. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays (with another 7 p.m. show this Sunday), and 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. Thursdays, $20, $15 seniors/students; Fridays-Sundays, $25, $20 students/seniors. $10 student rush 30 minutes before shows. Pay what you can on Wednesdays. About 65 minutes. (813) 879-2914 or gorillatheatre.com.

'Sweet Storm' at Tampa's Gorilla Theatre is refreshing but over too soon 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 10:20pm]
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