It takes a truly magnetic performer to hold an audience’s attention all on their own for a solid 90 minutes. This is the task given to Satchel Williams in Tatty Hennessy’s one-woman show A Hundred Words for Snow (directed by Claire Moyer). Playing teenager Rory, Williams will trek from downtown London all the way to the North Pole as she attempts to process the unexpected death of her father and perhaps better understand her relationship with her widowed mother.
One of the challenges for A Hundred Words for Snow is to relay the feeling of a global journey with a single performer on a stationary stage. The set design (by Chris Haig) consists of a beautifully painted three-tier stage with a backdrop designed to resemble the ice of arctic glaciers. It is a dreamy landscape for Rory to tackle as a solo explorer, and helps tell her story from an apartment in London to the frigid reaches of the Arctic Circle. In addition, the lighting (designed by Amanda Jensen) moves through a myriad of different phases and colors that help reflect Rory’s current geographic location. At the pinnacle of her journey, Rory will reach a part of the Earth where the sun does not completely set, washing the landscape in deep colors, but never plunging it into darkness. Likewise, her costume (by Ariel Wang) offers her multiple layers to add throughout the story as her journey takes her further north. Occasionally, Williams’ performance is augmented by sounds from a glacier, voice over from a museum exhibit, or the sounds of an airport, which helps to ground Rory’s story in a specific place beyond just her own narration (sound design by Liz Atkinson).
Rory is remarkably self-assured and organized for a 15-year-old girl. Upon finding a journal left behind by her father detailing a trip he had planned for the two of them to the North Pole, she decides to complete what she views as one of his last wishes and make the expedition herself with his urn in tow. Rory speaks directly and unabashedly to the audience throughout the play, so we are fully invested as participants in her deeply personal journey. The narrative of A Hundred Words for Snow (which is a misnomer, by the way, as Rory will tell you) ebbs and flows seamlessly between long historical recaps and jokes about the origin of her name, ensuring you are emotionally fulfilled on multiple levels by the time the lights come up.
A Hundred Words for Snow is at its best when it delves into the deeply human connection between exploration and purpose. Of course, humanity has always sought the unknown areas just beyond the horizon, and though Rory follows in the footsteps of plenty of hardened and famous explorers who came before her, she is no less resilient or impressive for the task. The play stumbles a bit when it takes a detour in Svalbard as Rory meets a group of young people who bring her to a house party, and one of whom takes Rory home with him afterward. Though this detour may not directly contribute to some of the play’s larger themes, it does help to remind us that Rory is really still a kid, which makes her solo trek through the snow all the more impressive. By the end of A Hundred Words for Snow, Rory will have physically traveled more 4,000 miles. Even more impressive may be the journey she undertakes within herself.
Inis Nua’s production of A Hundred Words for Snow is playing at the Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake through February 23rd. Tickets may be purchased online here.
Photos by Wide Eyed Studios.