two words for snow by Richard Sanger, directed by Ross Manson, with Nigel Shawn Williams, David Fox, Lucie Idlout, Tom Barnett, Jerry Franken and Hugh Thompson. Presented by Volcano at Artword (75 Portland). Runs to January 19, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 and 7 pm. $15-$26, Sunday matinee pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN
Richard Sanger packs so many themes and ideas into his script for Two Words For Snow that it occasionally feels unwieldy, like a snowball that's too big to hold.The ambitious play centres on the haunted memories of Matthew Henson (Nigel Shawn Williams), a black explorer who helped Robert Edwin Peary (David Fox) reach the North Pole in 1909 only to be betrayed by the man and denied his place in the history books.
Sanger also touches on other betrayals: Peary and crew's betrayal of the Inuit who helped them, and the married Henson's personal betrayal of his Inuit lover, a woman named Akatingwah (Lucie Idlout) who later bore him a child.
Race, class, imperialism, science, three time periods -- it's all fascinating, but too much for the work to support. And although director Ross Manson, aided by a superb design team, handles the mood shifts gracefully, I wish Sanger's script were more focused.
Even at the length of an average film, this play needs its intermission. Without it you couldn't process all the information.
There are powerful bits, such as a disturbing image of greed literally crushing skulls; Manson underscores a shadow motif effectively; and the climactic journey to the North Pole adds physical momentum to the show.
Williams, shedding and adding years in seconds, fully engages us in the life of the conflicted Henson; without him, the work would lose half its power. But few of the other characters are as complex, which means Fox gets to rely on his gruff tics and mannerisms, and the obviously undertrained Idlout opts for childlike simplicity.
Besides Williams, only Jerry Franken, as an ethnologist, brings a character to life.
Like the Arctic snow, the play drifts.
And so does our firstname.lastname@example.org