TheatreUNB is bringing a new COVID-safe show to the stage with Greenland.
Greenland (written by Nicholas Billion) follows three members of a broken family. The story is told by glaciologist Johnathan (Devin Rockwell), his struggling actress wife Judith (Jane Deil), and their daughter/niece Tanya (Mary Walker). Jonathan is preoccupied with his latest discovery – an island off the coast of Greenland that had previously been concealed by sea ice. He focuses on the interviews and publicity he’s received, but begins to discuss his relationship with his father, and his childhood. Judith is dealing with the loss of her sister and brother-in-law, and struggles with the fact that she desperately wants a baby and feels as though time is running out for her and Johnathan. She neglects to remind herself that she now has Tanya, (who, along with her brother, was adopted by their aunt and uncle after being orphaned). Tanya is distracted from her grief by a school project she’s doing on Greenland, and becomes very interested in her uncle’s new island.
It’s a compelling play, one that requires an immense amount of concentration and skill, as it relies entirely on the solitary performances of each actor. There’s no falling back on a scene partner, no one to rely on but the person in the spotlight. This makes it a play that is perfectly suited to COVID.
“I think that the play was a great choice on the director’s part considering our covid restrictions because the play consists of three separate monologues,” said Jane Deil. “Due to the nature of the play, I didn’t get to work with Mary or Devin at all in the beginning so I found it a lot more challenging to build my own character without having the other characters to reflect and build off of.”
This is a unique struggle in theatre – there are many plays that involve only one person, many plays that have a limited cast – but there are very few plays that involve three people working almost entirely alone. However, this means that the opening of the play will be putting all the emphasis on actor Devin Rockwell, and then handing it over to Deil, and then to Walker. The play demands excellence from each actor, and they’ve worked hard to be able to deliver.
“Knowing it wasn’t a stand-alone monologue, we all had to create the relationships we had with each other on our own and have them be cohesive when stacked together,” explained Deil. “I’d say that what I learned was the ability to create a sense of relationship or chemistry with characters I not only don’t interact with on stage, but didn’t really even get to rehearse with or interact with in general.”
Devin Rockwell, who plays Johnathan, explained a little bit more about how the play deals with complex subjects beyond the initial thoughts on climate change and family.
“I think it’s interesting how each of the characters struggles with placing themselves in a set of mythologies as a way of managing grief, because the play seems to be a little uncertain as to whether or not this actually ever works for them,” said Rockwell. “My character, Jonathan, for example, seems desperate to tie together a meaningful story for himself out of the discovery of an island off the coast of Greenland (recently revealed by a glacial retreat) and the death of his nephew.”
Rockwell explains that Johnathan is, “a scientific, pragmatic man,” but is missing something, something that just barely eludes him. Rockwell explains that their character searches for some explanation as to, “why his life and his job matter in a fundamental or universal sense.”
“The author seems to suggest that this process is in a sense, inevitable,” said Rockwell. “We all must engage in the creative process of grieving through storytelling or ‘mythologizing’ – but that in creating these myths we run the risk of losing ourselves within them, and in doing so, falling in love with the loss that led us to them in the first place.”
Deil also noted the unknown depths of the play, and its nuanced subject matter: “When I first read the script I had the impression that this was a play about climate change, and superficially it is, but after reading all three monologues you realize it’s so much deeper than that,” she explained.
TheatreUNB’s Greenland is shaping up to be just like the icebergs around Johnathan’s newly discovered island – more than meets the eye.
Greenland runs from February 18 to February 20 at 7:30 each evening. General admission is $10, senior $8, and students $5. The performance will be streamed live from Memorial Hall.