Information, reviews, and miscellaneous shorts focusing on professional, nonprofit theater—from a Southeast Minnesota perspective.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ice Maidens

A World Premiere by Stan Peal
Directed by Scott Dixon
Commonweal Theatre
(November 1, 2008)

First of all, Ice Maidens is much more interesting than Commonweal’s plot synopsis suggests. While it is true that its about a young woman returning for a visit to her Minnesota home and her estranged family, and it is true that her younger sister did fall through the ice and drown when they were girls and that unsettled guilt over the accident haunts each member of the family causing the young woman’s estrangement from her family, I still wasn’t expecting this play. The synopsis conjures up an earnest young women, perhaps fresh from therapy or a spiritual healing, attempting to embrace and reconcile with her past. But I knew this image was all wrong the moment Lisa comes on stage and sticks her head in the hole in what looks like ice and. . .well, I don’t want to spoil the scene for you.

Lisa and her boyfriend are not the middle class, Prius driving, 30-ish, professionals that I expected. Instead they turn out to be. . . .   And not only that, they’re also . . ., and they’re headed to California to tour with a group of . . . .   I’m starting to see why the Commonewal’s plot synopsis looked so bland; these revelations need to be made from the stage. Perhaps the impact of Lisa’s arrival to her family’s home is best summed up by 16-year-old Mandy who calls her prodigal sister “scalding, like an iron.”

Commonweal rehearsal
Kimberly Maas, Hal Cropp, and David Harmann rehearse a scene from Ice Maidens. (Photo: Commonweal)

The scalding Lisa, played by Kimberly Maas, and her Atlanta boyfriend, Wes (Mike Davidovich), enter into the Minnesota lake town that is just settling into the refreshing repose of November. It is the time of year when the ground begins to solidify with the frost, offering welcome stability. Writer Stan Peal has filled Ice Maidens with these types of metaphors. The cold refreshes Lisa and awakens a lost part of her. She begins the play “scalding,” tough and angry (and Maas is remarkably tough), but the cold softens her, melting her tough exterior.

But Maas’s character is not the only one who needs melting (or is it freezing?). Lisa’s mother Joanne (Susan D’Autremont) clings to her own ice out of fear of facing the past. Her obvious avoidance of her prodigal daughter is simply chilling. At a pivotal point in the play, when other family members are beginning to soften towards each other, D’Autremont distracts herself by worrying about the impending melting of the polar ice caps. Ice Maidens is rich with metaphors and images that include the ballerina spirit of the drowned sister, the transforming stories of evangelical Christianity, the opening of fragile souls in a Karaoke bar, and the freeing precision of skateboarding and figure skating.

It’s quite possible that Ice Maidens simply has too many metaphors and images “in play.” The ice dam is threatening to take out the bridge (the metaphors are contagious—I can’t help but pile them on). But if the metaphors threaten to implode the play, the characters are jumping up and down on thin ice (there I go again); they too are all “in play.” It seems that every character has a confession to make about the pivotal day when six year old Stephanie plunged through the ice. And every character is in need of his or her own redemption.The coincidences push against the ice dam that holds the play together and combine with the metaphors to make tremendous demands on the play’s ability to ultimately resolve and fulfill.

But the ice only bends and the dam holds, thanks to the will and the skill of the playwright. Peal’s script and director Dixon’s quick pacing keep the play moving forward, sometimes poignantly superimposing two small scenes over the top of each other. Ice Maidens is also extremely funny. The fluid clash of sincerity and cynicism, of heat and cold, provide unexpected levity. And while the underlying family drama is difficult, the characters are having fun, too; after all, there’s Karaoke on Sunday and Wednesday nights in Silver Lake, Minnesota.

Ice Maidens is a strong play and a brilliant production, and Peal and the Commonweal have every right to be extremely proud of it. But it’s also a work in progress, and I’m guessing that more changes will come over the short November run. A few of the irresistible metaphors may have to be saved back for another play. For example, the singing metaphor may be too predictable, like a sugary TV sitcom, distracting from the central them of redemption through cold and ice. And the final scene leaves everyone just a little bit too happy—all the metaphors consummated, all the characters redeemed. Perhaps I simply don’t trust a happy ending; perhpas I’ve lived in Minnesota too long.

While a world premiere brings focus on the play and the playwright, the acting company does a tremendous job of bringing Peal’s play to life. The evolving relationship between the sisters, Kimberly Maas and Stef Dickens, is particularly strong. While Maas has somehow transformed herself into the street tough Lisa, Dickens has somehow moved from the hardened prostitute of this summer’s Man of La Mancha into a very believable teenaged figure skater, complete with pink leg warmers. Kit Mayer and Jason Underferth have again used a simple set and lighting design to beautifully create the indoor and the outdoor, the real and the surreal, helping those of us in Southeast Minnesota embrace the refreshing return of the cold.

Ice Maidens runs through November 16.
Visit the Commonweal for schedules and tickets: Commonweal Theatre

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