by Lynn on April 23, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Frozen River (nȋkwatin sȋpiy)

Live and in person, presented by Young People’s Theatre (a Manitoba Theatre for Young People production), Toronto, Ont. Playing until April 28, 2023.

Co-written by Michaela Washburn, Joelle Peters and Carrie Costello

Directed by Katie German

Set and props by Andrew Moro

Costumes by Jay Havens

Lighting by Dean Cowleson

Composer and sound designer, MJ Dandeneau

Cast: Julia Davis

Keely McPeek

Emily Meadows

A beautiful play and production of communication, friendship and respect. Change and progress happen when communication, friendship and respect, are in play.

From the printed information to begin: “Grandmother Moon tells the story of two eleven-year-olds, born under the same blood moon, but in different parts of the world. Frozen River follows their stories as they meet in a forest, and that of their descendants who meet in present day Manitoba. A broken promise from the past can be righted when there is finally an openness to learn from those who have protected and honoured the waterways for centuries.”

Wâpam (Keely McPeek) is Indigenous, living on a reserve with her family. Eilidh (Emily Meadows) is Scottish and lives with her parents. They are both 11-years-old and were both born ‘under the same blood moon’, which means they were both born during a total lunar eclipse. The mystical Grandmother Moon (Julia Davis) watches over both of them, often guiding them.

Wâpam is wise, watchful and quiet. Eilidh is opinionated, confident and a touch bossy. She promises to visit Wâpam on her reserve but never does. A broken promise. There is a falling out between the two friends. Eilidh is critical of Wâpam but Wâpam says that Eilidh never listens to what Wâpam says, so how can there be any kind of true conversation. Eilidh never wants to learn what Wâpam has to say about her life and culture.

Fast forward seven generations, (symbolic in Indigenous culture). Wâpam amd Eilidh are in the same school. It’s early in the morning. Wâpam is there early because that’s when the bus comes to the reserve to take her to school. Eilidh is there too. They are in a room that has a turtle in a glass ‘aquarium.’ “Turtle” in Cree is Okânawâpacikêw. Eilidh says it’s too difficult to pronounce so she just calls it “turtle.” But Eilidh is curious about Wâpam and her reserve and her way of life. She asks questions. Wâpam replies. A rapport develops between the two. A trust develops as well. Wâpam invites Eilidh to her house on the reserve and Eilidh asked her mom if that is possible and yes, permission is given. And the visit happens. The broken promise of seven generations before is now corrected seven generations later. Eilidh put forth an effort and learned to pronounce Okânawâpacikêw for “turtle” as well. Progress, consideration, trust and respect.

Frozen River proves that sometimes a triple collaboration on writing to produce a smart, thoughtful, poetic script is possible. Michaela Washburn, Joelle Peters and Carrie Costello have collaborated on this dandy play to create language that is vivid and evocative.

As Wâpam, Keely McPeek is quietly proud and stands her ground when making her points. She is not cowed by anyone no matter the time period.  She doesn’t rail. She calmly states her case and proves her points. As Eilidh, Emily Meadows has the confidence of one who feels they are right all the time. Eilidh has the ability to change her point of view as she did after the seven generations.  As Grandmother Moon, Julia Davis is ethereal, mystical and pragmatic.

All three actors give lovely performances, engaging, buoyant and personable under Katie German’s fluid, thoughtful direction. I can appreciate that the actors want the audience to be quiet and attentive and so they talk ‘normally’. They are not microphoned. That’s a problem. The audience does settle but hearing what the characters are actually saying to each other, especially the several Cree words, is difficult because the actors are talking too quietly.  Frankly the actors need body-microphones to help the voice carry. Interestingly when the three actors conducted a talk-back they used a hand-held microphone so they could be heard.

The dialogue and especially the Cree is important to hear in this thoughtful play. Please microphone the actors so that everybody is helped to do their very best—the actors conveying the message and the audience being able to hear it.

The entire production is created with care and meticulous attention to detail. Andrew Moro’s set of two disks at right angles to each other is evocative of Indigenous culture and makes the young audience look carefully and deeply. Shadow puppets are reflected in one of the disks. The costumes conjure two time periods seven generations apart. Jay Havens’ costumes beautifully reflect the time seven generations before and in the future.

Beautiful work.  

Young People’s Theatre, a Manitoba Theatre for Young People present:

Plays until April 28, 2023.

Running time: 1 hour.

Leave a Comment