In `Strange Snow,' Joseph, a talkative veteran, tries to get his silent war buddy, Dave, to open up and resolve what happened to them over there. Joseph also brashly woos Dave's prim sister -- a most unlikely, funny, and ultimately wonderful alliance.
With this issue, the weekly New England pullout is being discontinued, and coverage of Boston and New England arts will shift to the Monitor's main edition and to its New England radio program, which debuts May 1.
The spate of plays, films, and art about Vietnam shows that the nation is increasingly ready for a clear-eyed look at that war's effects. For many, this willingness to recognize the situation is the first step toward healing it.. That so many artists in varying fields are applying their craft to shed light on this is welcome after so much apparent amnesia.
And in time for the 10th anniversary of the fall of Saigon is ``Strange Snow,'' by Steve Metcalfe, playing at the Merrimack Regional Theatre in Lowell. It's a more personal, warm, and funny play than many of the others. It also has less dramatic impact.
Ostensibly it's about one vet who talks, and another who doesn't. But most of the time it explores the growing romance between one vet and the other's sister. Joseph (nicknamed Megs) is a hyperactive hooter and hollerer, full of amiable profanity and country witticisms. Martha is a prim, bespectacled biology teacher. Their romance is totally implausible, which makes it fun to watch as she gradually lets down her hair, and he becomes more of a gentleman.
So how is this a play about two Vietnam vets? That's one of its problems -- it leaves the war issue more or less simmering on the back burner. Joseph, though in many ways the more adjusted of the two, still smashes his fist through windows when stymied. The quiet vet, Dave, has put a lid on his feelings and the only thing he lets in is booze. What's unresolved between them comes out in a big explosion at the end, but it's not dramatic enough to warrant the buildup.
Playwright Metcalfe stoops to such irritating and predictable laugh-getters as hangover and spinster jokes. At times, the writing is self-consciously poetic, and though many of the lines zing, just as many fall flat.
The acting, however, under Grey Cattell Johnson's witty and sensitive direction, makes up for any flaws the play may have. As Martha, Roberta Wallach is especially fascinating. As she starts to brighten under Joseph's attentions, her mannerisms, speech patterns, and movements gradually change. When her old and new selves lurch within her, the result is as funny as the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin character in ``All of Me.'' Jonathan Fuller pulls off the difficult part of Megs with great believability. Michael French is appropriately slovenly and sullen as David.
For all the play's problems, there's something endearing and enlightening about it. Like many others on the subject, it opens another window on the experience of returning vets. Learning more about what they went through helps us to understand them, and us. We all need to ``put the fatigues to sleep.'' Through May 5.
It was with much anticipation and enthusiasm that this city's sequin set filled the cavernous Wang Center for the Performing Arts Monday on opening night of the Metropolitan Opera's much-acclaimed Franco Zeffirelli production of Puccini's ``La Boh`eme.'' The past season has been quiet for opera buffs. Last year the Met detoured around Boston on its annual road tour. This year the Opera Company of Boston canceled its season after the production of ``Tales of Hoffmann,'' because of the illness of its artistic director, Sarah Caldwell.
There have been some complaints that the touring companies present their second-string performers for the same price as the stars, but opera has always been an expensive venture. Now is a time to be grateful for what we do get -- the good of which is often overlooked.
Catherine Malfitano as Mimi -- one of the Met's rising stars, and Ermanno Mauro as Rodolpho led a well-cast, vocally consistant, and for the most part dramatically convincing production.
Mauro's rich, mellifluous voice and strong acting ability were in perfect harmony with Malfitano's gentle portrayal of the ill-fated attic waif, Mimi.
With a voice that can fill the Wang Center, leaving little room for a sigh, Malfitano's is a Mimi of grace and courage, if perhaps a little too much strength. Myra Merritt, somewhat overspirited as Musetta, lacked the teasing coquettishness that brings fullness and dimension to the part.
Zeffirelli's sets, smaller than those used in New York, but still complex, range from muted but exquisite garret scenes, differentiated in the first and final acts only by a few colorful pots of geraniums, to the flamboyant second act, full of high-spirited holiday action, the perfect drop for Musetta's strutting and flirting.
Tchaikovsky's ``Eugene Onegin'' and Wagner's ``Lohengrin'' were performed Tuesday and Wednesday nights, respectively.
The rest of the Met's Boston tour will include Verdi's ``Rigoletto'' tonight, with Roberta Peters performing the role of Gilda; another Verdi, ``Simon Boccanegra'' (starring Sherrill Milnes), which hasn't been performed by the Met in Boston since 1960, on Friday night; and Mozart's ``Cos`i fan tutte,'' Saturday evening.
A 1:30 matinee of Humperdinck's ``H"ansel and Gretel,'' sung in English on Saturday, is being presented to attract a younger opera generation. So turn off MTV and drag the kids to this bright, delightful, production.
Tickets for the matinee are priced from $10.50. Seats for other performances are from $15.50 to $45.50.[WS -- 30 --