Review: Icemen

by Lynn on November 6, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. Produced by Theatre By the Bay. Plays until Nov. 12, 2023.

Written by Vern Thiessen

Directed by Iain Moggach

Set by Joe Pagnan

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Costumes by Madeline Ius

Music director/composer, Mathew Magneson

Cast: Nathan Howe

Tom Keat

Isaiah Kolundzic

Icemen was commissioned by Iain Moggach, artistic director of Theatre By the Bay. The company does original work of historic significance that happened around Barrie, Ontario.

So Iain Moggach asked playwright Vern Thiessen to write a play about Barrie, a place to which he had never been and didn’t know anything about according to Thiessen’s own admission. After much research Thiessen has written a play about three generations of Simcoe County ice harvesters who worked in Kempenfelt Bay. This was before refrigeration when this harvested ice kept food cold and fresh. But then the advent of the refrigerator came about that made its own ice and that put the job of the ice harvester in peril. People were getting desperate as they watched as their livelihood vanished.

The production opens in a wood structure, a shed. In Joe Pagnan’s design, there is an outline of the structure with a large table, a ladder against the wall and a sliding red door up center. There are two men in the shed. One is Joe (Isaiah Kolundzic) who is a fit looking man and he’s pacing. He seems anxious. The other person is F.F. for Franklin Forsyth (Nathan Howe) who wears a brown suit and is slumped, tied up and gagged, in a chair. We get a sense of why Joe is so antsy.

Joe is an ice harvester. F.F. is a rich businessman who has hired Joe and his brother Rennie (Tom Keat) and worked them on 20 hour days to harvest the ice. Rennie was exhausted and an accident happened and shredded his arm but he kept working.

Joe has kidnapped F.F. and is holding him for ransom that he and his brother will use to leave that place and get set up someplace else. This is the story of desperation. The haves like FF and the have nots like Joe and his brother Rennie. There is also a hint that perhaps F.F.’s father might have done some dishonest stuff to get ahead by cheating Joe and Rennie’s father. Animosity and anger run deep and long in this community. You see how wily F.F. is even in captivity and how desperate the two brothers are as they plan their next move.

The production is gripping thanks to Vern Thiessen’s play and Iain Moggach’s direction of it. You have one guy tied up and drugged in a chair and the man who did it to him is standing near him angry and agitated. The direction is clear, efficient and well-paced. You grip the arm rest waiting to hear what’s going to happen.

The acting is terrific. Isaiah Kolundzic as Joe, is almost always on the move, almost like prowling. Joe is anxious, unsettled and he shows it by not being able to settle and contain his anxiety. When he speaks it’s with force, agitation and anger.  As F.F. Nathan Howe illuminates F.F’s smarts, his ease with manipulation of a situation. He whimpers, he makes bargains to win over Joe and Rennie. We are watching a cat and mouse game. Vern Thiessen knows how to write it and the actors are wonderful in conveying the subtleties of it.  As Rennie, Tom Keat is a big man who shows all of Rennie’s fragility—from his useless arm, always in a sling, to the fact he might not be intellectually nimble. It’s lovely performance as are they all.

Playwright, Vern Thiessen certainly gives one the sense of the huge ice industry that went on in Simcoe County with the icemen harvesting ice. It’s an industry that was carried on from generation to generation. And then refrigerator was invented and the artificial way of creating ice. And the icemen were thrown to the curb. Heartbreaking.

Theatre by the Bay presents:

Runs until Nov. 12, 2023

Running time: 80 minutes (no intermission)

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