A Hundred Words for Snow: but where’s the subtlety?

Hundred Words for Snow, United Players, Vancouver theatre

Hana Joi does her best with clumsy material in A Hundred Words for Snow. (Photo by Doug Williams)

This is the first time I’ve attended a live performance since the beginning of the plague, so I’m going to start off by talking about that.

Going in, I was mildly freaked out; I’m 68 and I’m taking immunosuppressant drugs. Because I’m vulnerable, I wore a mask and a face shield. But I ditched the shield after about eight minutes because it made me feel like I was in another room. Besides, I was aware that United Players, the producing company, was taking good care of me.

UP has instituted “gap-toothed seating”: they’ve removed several chairs in every row, leaving groups of one, two, or three. This allows for physical distancing and means you don’t have to squeeze past anybody to get to your chair.

They didn’t have an intermission, they took everybody’s contact information, provided hand sanitizer, and so on. The only downside is that the air circulation wasn’t great. Overall, though, I felt safe. (UP also offers a video option.)

I wish I’d liked the show more.

The problem is the script. In A Hundred Words for Snow, which is a monologue, playwright Tatty Hennessy tells the story of 15-year-old Rory (Aurora), who decides to steal her mother’s credit card and take her father’s ashes to the North Pole. Rory did not approve of the polite funeral her mom arranged and, conveniently, just after the service, she reads her dad’s journal and finds out that he’d been planning to take her on a trip to the top of the world. Apparently, the two of them had shared a thing for northern exploration. So off she goes.

Unfortunately, Hennessy’s development of this premise is so deliberate you can practically hear her nailing the pieces together: a lot of her text is barely disguised research. Having gotten herself to Norway, for instance, Rory visits a museum of northern exploration, which allows her to rattle off information about polar expeditions and the glories of ice

This being 2020 (A Hundred Words for Snow was written in 2017), the script dutifully declares its positions on colonialism and climate change. Don’t get me wrong; these are urgent, complex, and important subjects but, if you’re going to address them, I think you’re beholden to do so with some depth. It’s not enough to lecture your audience about how the hundred-words-for-snow idea may be bullshit, Eskimo is an offensive term, and polar bears are dying. A lot of us know those things already. And we don’t need to hear them repeated in asides that are so tacked onto the story they might as well be post-it notes.

One sequence did engage me. That’s because the script stops spouting ideas and takes some time to sketch a relationship: in a Norwegian town, Rory has sex with a boy named Andreus. It’s her first time. Unfortunately, this episode is entirely tangential.

A Hundred Words for Snow wants to be about grief but Hennessy doesn’t give flesh to Rory’s love for her father, so we never really feel her loss. And Rory’s troubled relationship with her mom is just a pair of clichés about estrangement and resolution.

Fortunately, young actor Hana Joi (under the direction of Tamara McCarthy) has enough chops to get us through all of this relatively pain-free. Holding the stage of 80 minutes is no mean feat and, with her warmth and playfulness, Joi manages to do it.

The set, a wall of cracked white ice lined up with a geometric white playing area, is elegantly elemental. It was designed by Graham Ockley and McCarthy.

I’m glad to be back in the theatre and I’m grateful to United Players for opening the door so carefully. I hope that the company’s programming for the rest of this challenging season is more substantial.

A HUNDRED WORDS FOR SNOW By Tatty Hennessy. Directed by Tamara McCarthy. A United Players production. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Friday, September 11. Continues until October 4. Tickets.

NEVER MISS A REVIEW: To get links to my reviews plus the best of international theatre coverage, sign up for FRESH SHEET, my free weekly e-newsletter.  

And, if you want to keep independent criticism alive in Vancouver, check out my Patreon page. Newspapers are dying and arts journalism is often the first thing they cut. Fight back!

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!