Exploration tests a friendship in this delightful fairy tale.
For its second production, Glass Mind Theatre Company tackles a surreal tale of two 15-year-olds exploring Antarctica. The trip may be arduous for Winnie and Magda, but for the audience it is a thoroughly charming, if brief experience. If this quirky sense of fun combined with strong acting and material are harbingers of Glass Mind's contribution to local theater, it is quite the welcome addition.
Antarctica is only 45 minutes long, but in that time it takes its high school student leads on an epic adventure. The tale is told largely in third person by Magda (Elizabeth Galuardi) and Winnie (Britt Olsen-Ecker), starting with their meeting in social studies. Magda was new. Winnie was late, the result of having a violent nose bleed all over another student. Magda and Winnie interrupt and contradict each other as they describe a moment they both experienced but from very different points of view. Magda is an engaged student, eager to explore the strange lands. It's her idea to head out from the banality of high school parties to the South Pole. Winnie is focused mostly on boys, and looks to the trip to Antarctica as an escape from her latest YM moment.
From there, Antarctica, leaves reality far behind for a fairy tale world where 15-year-olds have few problems getting to the South Pole with little more than warmish jackets, school books, and snack cakes. The whole thing could easily be a silly absurdist mess. Instead, Carolyn Raship uses her heroines' bizarre journey to explore friendships and fables, placing modern day teens in a Beauty and the Beast-esque Norwegian fairy tale called East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
Amid the stress and strain of trying to become the first American girls to journey to the true South Pole, as they run out of ring dings, find their measly tent little respite from the cold, and realize that not bringing sled dogs was a big mistake, the girls are rescued by a white bear (Alex Scally). In return for help surviving the frozen tundra and finding the South Pole, he wants Winnie to come stay with him every night. Winnie agrees at Magda's urging. Winnie spends more and more time with the bear, who is clearly laboring under some sort of enchantment, and Magda is given all she needs to explore except the friend she wanted to share the trip with.
It is not just the clever script that makes Antarctica such a winner. The cast is excellent. Galuardi offers a beautiful mix of nerdy bravado and teenage insecurity. And Olsen-Ecker makes the brash Winnie more than the superficial party girl she first appears. It would be easy to make the role into a Chrissy Snow/Elle Woods, but Olsen-Ecker gives her layers while still playing up the humor of her boy-craziness. Scally plays all the male roles, including deck hands, teenage boys, and the white bear. While, his performance is the least memorable of the show, it is a testament to his skill that he supports the two leads without ever trying to overshadow them.
Director Andrew Peters, who recently served as assistant director for Cyrano and Working It Out at CenterStage, does a fabulous job with a minimal set. It basically consists of a few chairs, a projection screen, and a table/tent/sled. Still, Peters and his actors manage to create a fully realized world. The images projected on screen add a lot, whether it is a piece of loose leaf paper with "blah, blah, blah, penguins" written on it or a sketch of a party that would be right at home in the same notebook.
During the run of the play, Glass Mind will be hosting several theme nights. Friday, April 23, is Prom Night, with live music before and after the play. Patrons dressed in prom gear get $3 off admission. Sunday, April 25, is Potluck and Pajamas night, which is pretty much what it sounds like. These playful events mesh well with the whimsy of the play. And if there's one thing that could make this show more fun, it would be seeing it in your PJs with a lapful of Rice Krispies treats.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201