Frozen River Weaves Enchanting Tale of Friendship, Promises and Interconnectedness
By Ezekiel McAdams
November 19 2022
Frozen River (Nikwatin Sipiy) is a Manitoba Theatre For Young People production from Winnipeg. at the Backstage Theatre at Persephone Theatre. The play aimed for young children is currently on a national tour throughout Canada.
Originally mounted in Winnipeg for a short two week run, it officially debuted in Vancouver at the Waterfront Theatre in September before coming to Saskatoon.
The play recently won the Sharon Enkin Award For Young People at the 2021 Tom Hendry Playwright Awards hosted by the Playwrights Guild of Canada.
The play is written by Michaela Washburn, Carrie Costello and Joelle Peters and directed by Katie German. The play stars Krystle Pederson as Grandmother Moon who facilities as the narrator, and Kathleen MacLean as Wapam and Mallory James as Elidh. Both play past and present versions of their characters. Pederson also plays multiple roles throughout the play.
The play tells the story of two twelve year old girls, Wapam, from the local indigenous tribe from the area and Elidh, whose family immigrated from Scotland and built a nearby farm.
Both girls were born on the same day on a blood moon and despite cultural differences soon become fast friends.
Initially both girls get enamoured in each other’s culture and ideology and make a promise that when Elidh’s baby sister is older, Wapam will stay with Elidh’s family for the winter and then Elidh will go with Wapam’s family the following winter.
During the winter months, it becomes apparent that Elidh is getting tired of Wapam’s differences and insists she conform to Elidh’s way of life “a better, easy way” A rift soon occurs and the once unbreakable promises is now irreparably broken with the two girls never speaking again.
The play flashes forward to present day Manitoba where two twelve yr old girls also named Wapam and Elidh meet when they arrive early for school. This Wapam is more reserved. She is peppered with bits of cynicism and pessimism. Elidh is more reactionary, going by emotions and instinct which bothers the more thoughtful and introspective Wapam.
Their paths collide, when Elidh is bemoaning and ranting about having frozen pipes at home. She wants to involve the disinterested Wapam in a student walkout. Elidh soon learns that Wapam’s water supply at the reserve has been contaminated before she was born and slowly the two girls decide to try to learn about it each other and not jump to judgment fulfilling a promise their ancestors made seven generations before.
The story is beautifully told and the dialogue by Washburn, Costello and Peters is both nuanced and razor-sharp interspersed with drama and humor. The messages of reconciliation interconnectedness and environmentalism never feel forced or like a lesson, rather in the tradition of the oral tales now held up as pillars throughout our cultures, providing insight, metaphors ad analogies.
The play sparks inquisitiveness and engages both the young audience but also adults to further read about figures like Autumn Peltier.
German’s direction is strong while subtle allowing the actors and the set design continually moving the story forward.
It is Pederson who is the centre of the foundation. She conveys a soothing voice and powerful presence draws the audience in, never once feeling like exposition rather a master storyteller at work. Her ability to play multiple characters never detracts or takes you out of the play. Her work as puppeteer of a turtle is exceptionally memorable.
James is able to effortlessly switch from her Scottish brogue to her modern Manitoba accent. She plays past Elidh with enthusiasm while her present version is more kinetic Her energy is constantly present while being to wrangle both comedy and dramatic scenes with ease.
MacLean plays past Wapam with such warmth, innocence and curiosity while being strongly grounded in her traditions and identity. While her present version is more circumspective and withdrawn, missing the early warmth of her past self. MacLean is able to make both versions relatable and different.
The set design by Andy Moro is simple and effective allowing the canvas to help move the story along.
The use of shadow puppets, puppets and mannequins are an effective tool not just for the intended young audience but allowing an immerse backdrop and ambience that makes Frozen river unique and memorable.
The costumes by Jay Havens are well done, stylish and immerse only adding to the magical presentation.
Frozen River (Nikwatin Sipiy) is not just a play for young audiences but everyone. It is powered by a strong message and themes of reconciliation, environmentalism and interconnectedness. Firing on all cylinders this play is a can’t miss sewn together with strong dialogue, captivating and enchanting performances leaving the audience with hope and to always question and wonder and start discourse.
Frozen River (Nikwatin Sipiy) is playing at Persephone Theatre from November 9th to the 19th at the Backstage Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online. https://tickets.persephonetheatre.org/TheatreManager/1/login?event=1265