In 2005, an American explorer named Dennis Schmitt stumbled upon an island called Uunartoq Qeqertaq (Greenlandic for “The Warming Island”) more than 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Disturbingly, as recently as 2002, it wasn’t an island at all, but was attached to the mainland by glacial ice. In less than three years, the ice shelves had rapidly retreated more than six miles, unmooring The Warming Island and providing many members of the scientific community with concrete evidence of the impending consequences of climate change.
For Nicolas Billon, this dramatic ecological event also served as the inspiration for Greenland, one of three plays in his thematically linked trilogy, “Fault Lines,” which explores the many metaphoric parallels between our personal tragedies and our planet’s. The titles—Greenland, Iceland, and Faroe Islands—evoke ideas of what it means to be an “island” and hint at the central concerns of each play.
“I’d seen one of Nicholas’ plays in Halifax and I just fell in love with it,” says director Meg Taintor. “It was one of those things where I supposed to go see another show the next night and I cancelled it and bought another ticket to see his show again.”
Taintor soon got her hands on a copy of the “Fault Lines” trilogy and eagerly read the whole thing in one night while staying at a hostel in Toronto—the same city in which Greenland takes place.
“It’s not really the type of work I really do or that I’m normally drawn to. It’s really spare, it’s really elegant, and it’s really—it’s not underwritten, but it’s written in such a way that shows he just trusts his actors and his directors so much,” Taintor explains. “Because you can get in the way of this play really easily. And so for us the challenge for us was to do less.”
Greenland is unique in its sparseness. The play consists of just three monologues from its principal characters: Jonathan, a prominent glaciologist, Judith, a working actor who lives with Jonathan in Toronto, and Tanya, their fourteen-year-old niece. At a runtime of just one hour, the play manages to deal an incredible blow of emotional weight as the spotlight moves from one person to the next.
“Fault lines are the place where two things are rubbing up against each other and causing friction. Greenland takes its root story from a geological event revealed by climate change, but it’s actually about the cracks between a family and how those are revealed during tragedy,” Taintor says. “Greenland means different things to the characters—freedom; the thing destroying a marriage; the idea of connection.”
She was also attracted to the play by its candid treatment of climate change, as the scientific community is one that is not often focused on in contemporary theater. It’s also not taken particularly seriously in our social conscience, but as our current winter continues to make clear, climate change is not a problem with any odds of disappearing soon.
“It’s not an activism play,” Taintor clarifies. “But what it does do—and I think this is a bit of a political statement—is treat climate change as a fact. No one in this play questions it. Small acts, or small refusals to act, compounded over time, lead to huge catastrophic problems, which is not unlike what is happening to this family. And just like climate change, they are aware that the way they are behaving is destructive on some level, but they still do it, and they end up in this barren relationship that we see them in. As the receding glaciers pull back, they reveal that what we once thought was a complete whole is actually made up of smaller parts.”
Informal talkbacks will take place after each performance, and Taintor hopes audiences will stay and help create the most important product of any theatre experience—conversation.
APOLLINAIRE THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS: GREENLAND. CHELSEA THEATRE WORKS, 189 WINNISIMMET ST., CHELSEA. THROUGH MARCH 15. $20 ADVANCE/$25 DOOR/$15 STUDENTS. SHOWTIMES AND TICKETS AT APOLLINAIRETHEATRECOMPANY.COM