A HATFUL OF RAIN, Infectious! Productions, at National Pastime Theater. Michael Vincente Gazzo’s 1955 play–about a vet scarred by trauma as a POW and by the morphine addiction initiated during his convalescence–was a real shocker at its premiere, especially given its candid discussion of postwar family issues: wives driven to adultery by their husbands’ neglect, parents lost in nostalgic denial, ambivalence about the affluence of a boom economy. But what was electrifying in 1955 seems more mundane in 1998: subsequent wars have familiarized us with the troubles of returning veterans. And these days domestic social problems are explored in neat TV movies, not talky three-act plays: young performers, lacking the intellectual stamina to sustain character and plot development over two or three hours, frequently opt to coast on energy and attitude.

Under Madrid St. Angelo’s reverent direction, however, this Infectious! production displays a focused tension that draws us into the world of the play to re-create not only the educational but the emotional impact of Gazzo’s plea to a shell-shocked society. This approach may be heavy-handed at times–a supportive brother becomes downright saintly, and the drug dealers are irredeemably nasty. But the production is so immediate that during intermission audience members were heard discussing these fictional characters of almost half a century ago as intensely as they would their own family members.

–Mary Shen Barnidge