WALKING DOWN THE STEEP, CEMENT-paved incline that leads to Theater Schmeater's tiny, 70-seat theater, I felt like a kamikaze pilot going in for his suicide run. If the Schmeater's bombastic and tragically overacted Theater in the Park series was any indication of what lay in store, I could fully expect to have my nerves shattered and my eardrums pounded to a bloody pulp by their obnoxiously perfect diction and bionic stage voices. Fortunately for my ears, Theater Schmeater's production of Horton Foote's 1918 was exactly the opposite: under-acted, full of quiet moments, pregnant pauses, and hushed whispers.

Set in a small East Texas town at the tail end of WWI, 1918 tells the story of the Vaughn clan--a rather typical and uninspiring American family--as they attempt to cope with a raging flu epidemic, the loss of family and friends to war and fever, and their maddeningly boring existence. Foote's writing (including The Trip to Bountiful and the screenplay of To Kill a Mockingbird,) is famous for its subtleties, and 1918 is no exception. A great deal of forbearance is required to sit through a Horton Foote play without dozing off, let alone to fully appreciate its nuances. But the cast, directed by James Lapan, seemed to completely understand and to be in full control of this fact; the slow pacing and often dry dialogue were quite appropriate--if at times a little snooze-inducing. While always skating along the thin lines between boring the audience to tears, keeping the show moving at a reasonable pace, and remaining true to the writing, the cast managed to maintain the audience's interest while breathing meaning into each quiet moment.

Regrettably, many cast members fell into the trap of over-indulging in these quiet moments, reining themselves in too much and deadpanning what should have been powerful scenes (Oh, the baby's dead? Well, shucks. I think we're out of eggs, too...). This left unsatisfying holes in potentially electric exchanges, and made me hunger to see at least one character clench his fists and start puking in angst. Most engaging among the cast members were the warm and charming Therese Diekhans as the Vaughn family matriarch, and Reginald Andre Jackson as the humble grave digger. Diekhans brought a quiet stability and unspoken wisdom to the stage, while Jackson created a strong and endearing character with his comparatively small amount of stage time. Featuring a sufficient, if not stellar cast, 1918 is a pleasant way to spend an evening, if not the most wildly entertaining show in town.

Support The Stranger