Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Hard Bargain Players Devour the Snow

By • Oct 9th, 2007 • Category: Reviews

Listen to Lisa Kay Morton discuss Hard Bargain Players’ production of Devour the Snow [MP3 4:14 1.9MB].

“The snow has taken it all”

October 5 through October 20 Hard Bargain Players presents Abe Polsky’s Devour the Snow Friday & Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m. Set in a wooded, outdoor amphitheater HBP are known for presenting edgy, thought provoking drama and Devour the Snow fits the bill.

A courtroom drama based on the true story of the 1846 wagon train expedition of the Donner Party the story and this performance is absolutely spell-binding. Riveting. All those words you use when you are can’t get away from something – regardless of how unsettling or disturbing it is.

Devour the Snow is much more than a courtroom drama- although it is a good one, or a historical play- and it is that, too. It is a showcase of the human drama of last resorts. The fate of the Donner Party is a macabre legend of how the west was won A wagon party of families set out from Illinois for California, stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains by an early snowfall, they build crude shelters of logs and hides. They then commenced to eat their animals and their shoes. Eventually, the 47 survivors (out of a party of 82) proceeded to eat their own dead.

The courtroom drama is a slander trial. Ten days after their rescue survivor, German immigrant Lewis Keseberg is accusing other members of the group of slander. Their accusations? Theft and murder. The trial is concerned with who ate whom when. Director Brian Donohue does an artful job of moving the story along. The rhetoric of one atrocity after another can be numbing- but not in this case.

Donohue has the perfect setting at Hard Bargain- the rustic setting and the set and costumes immediately place you back in 1846. The drama places you in hell. The torment of each of the survivors is unimaginable. Randy Tusing as the tortured Keseberg sculptures a portrait of hell in ice with a laser like focus and a passion that swings across the stage like an inferno. Tusing was simply brilliant. How do you feel empathy for a man who reveals he ate his own dead daughter? You would be surprised.

Stellar performances include Mike Mortensen as the heroic survivor James Reed (acting as defense counsel) and David M. Thomas as Judge John Sutter. The supporting cast offers thoughtful and introspective performances all around.

The tragedy for the Donner Party members who did not perish was not so much the events of that winter in the snow… but the memories that did not perish. Who was the mad party? Who was the murderer? Who was justified in their choices? Who was the criminal? Keseberg said in the trial, of his gruesome survival methods. “Together we conquer all things, even the snow. We were immortal.” Later, Foster spoke of Keseberg, speaking in his defense… “What you hung on that wall…that was no animal…that was my son” (Refering to the body of his own son). The plea of the Eddy, another defendant? “Set me free! We are not the same!”

Don’t miss the opportunity to ask yourself the questions raised in this beautifully crafted and though provoking drama. Criminal or victim? A mad man or a survivor? And you- given the worst of scenarios… what destiny would you embrace? Humano… humain… menschlich… human… humano…

Hard Bargain Players is located approximately 2 miles west of Indian Head Highway (Route 210) on Bryan Point Road in Accokeek, Maryland. Their website is

Keseberg: “We are told it’s a mortal sin to take your own life. My crime, my sin was that I did not. Time and again I was about to do it. With the gun in my mouth and my finger on the trigger. What stopped me? Others could accept Death as a friend, to welcome Him with a smile, yet I could not. The need to go on, that is my crime. My misfortune. I need to live too much.

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works nationally and internationally as an opera singer, coach, teacher, conductor and stage director. She is the CEO of Saltnote Stageworks, a non-profit corporation that promotes education & performance opportunities for emerging artists.

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