nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
August 14, 2011
There isn’t that much talk of Greenland itself in Nicolas Billon’s play of the same name, save for the occasional tidbits thirteen-year-old Tanya (Susan Heyward) gives us in preparation for her class project on the country. We don’t see the nation either; nor do we see the new island Tanya’s uncle Jonathan (Andrew Musselman) discovered off its coast. What we see instead are the cracks in the relationships between Tanya, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s wife Judith (Claire Calnan), ones which have been slowly revealed just as Jonathan’s new island was revealed by retreating glacial ice.
Billon has given his actors a wonderful script. The characters reveal their stories through three separate monologues, and each characters’ voice is thoroughly distinct. Heyward is deliciously bubbly as the young Tanya, who is struggling with the accidental loss of a family member; she can’t help but tell us stories about him, but each time stops herself from lapsing into tears by reading us quirky data points about Greenland off index cards (“Fact: Greenland’s coat of arms looks like a kung-fu fighting polar bear!”). Her vivacity gives way to Jonathan’s numb politesse—Musselman delivers his entire speech with a faint smile, as if he were telling a vaguely amusing story at a cocktail party, but his words carry a different tale of loss and regret and disappointment—he is a glaciologist who has become iced over himself, through the same family loss. The poignant end to his scene also involves ice—and no spoken words.
Musselman’s ice gives way to Calnan’s fire. Her Judith is grieving with the others, but she makes it clear that this is just one of several disappointments and sorrows she’s faced over the years, going all the way back to when she first married Jonathan—and that she is at a boiling point. Even so, Calnan is wisely restrained; Judith never really shouts or screams, but she definitely seethes. She is definitely going to take action, we know, and it will not be good for anyone.
Director Ravi Jain wisely gives us a simple, sparse set—there’s nothing more than a table and a blinding white backdrop to show off the cast.
The new island off Greenland’s coast is indeed real—Uunartoq Qeqertaq, or “Warming Island,” discovered in 2005 and so named because it was uncovered when its glacial cover melted. But save for one of Tanya’s “Fact!”s, this poignant play has nothing to do with the climate change controversy—and everything to do with the chilly climate within one troubled family.