By Jerry Wasserman
United Players kicks off the return of live theatre with an award-winning one-act from the UK, A Hundred Words for Snow by Tatty Hennessy
Live theatre is tentatively, tenuously back. We’ve gotten used to so many strange New Normals, surely we can adjust to theatre experiences constrained by all the new protocols. Maximum audience of 50 in socially distanced seats. Hand sanitizer when you enter. Mandatory masks. No mingling in the lobby. No concession. One-act plays. One-person plays. Row by row when you exit, like a high school assembly.
Can theatregoing still be fun? We’ll find out this fall. I’m cautiously excited. Theatres have been dark longer than schools, bars andprofessional sports. We theatre junkies have been jonesing for months, reading more books, surviving on Netflix, but craving the real thing.
Now, finally, the Arts Club, Firehall and United Players have announced fall seasons. Patrons can choose to see the plays live or online. The Fringe Festival is offering a small number of live shows as is Langley’s Theatre in the Country. The Cultch and Studio 58 productions will be entirely online.
Rory is appalled by the banality of her mother’sgrief and the other mourners at her dad’s funeral,and furious as the urn with his ashes sits on the kitchen table afterwards “like a pepper mill.”When she discovers that dad was planning a trip with her to the North Pole, she steals her mother’s credit card, grabs the urn and a backpack, and takes off for the Norwegian Arctic.
Joi’s Rory is quick and funny, full of energetic adolescent self-consciousness and cynicism (everything is “rubbish”), but observant and thoughtful. She carries on an entertaining dialogue with her father’s urn as if he were alive, meditates on all those who died trying to get to the pole, and vividly conveys her experience of extreme cold. She remarks in passing on the explorers’racism and colonialism, and some ecological issues, but her personal obsession with polar bears is much more interesting.
In the best scene by far Rory has sex with a cute Norwegian boy, thenstares at the ceilingthinking of the long, long line of women who, like her, have lost their virginity.
Director Tamara McCarthy paces Joi’s performance nicely and finds enough variety in moving the actor around the simple, spare set with the help of Graham Ockley’s lighting. But the many Norwegian place names and explorers (besides Franklin) are difficult to catch, partly due to Joi’s thick English accent. A glossary in the program would help. Projecting a map and names on the back wall would be better.
If we can have only one actor at a time in our brave new post-COVID theatre world, we need strong production values. Otherwise, everything is going to look like a Fringe show.