Stages Theatre Festival, Eastern Front Theatre
June 5, 2013
Review by Martin Wallace
A woman who wants to explore her creativity, Virginia Woolf famously tells us, needs “a room of her own.” In Meghan Greeley’s Kingdom, Nora (played by Greeley herself) has precisely that. And, as Woolf predicts, in Nora, creativity abounds; the walls of her room decorated with the pictures she has drawn, her days filled with exuberant games and songs. Nora’s room, however, is also her prison. She has left this room maybe once or twice in the eleven years since she was brought here at the age of five.
Nora’s kidnapper and jailer is the otherwise nameless Sir (Andy Jones), a rulebound and aging man, whose visits punctuate Nora’s days. He is alternately tender and controlling, telling Nora when she is “good” and when she is “bad,” calling her his princess one moment and comparing her nose to Pinocchio’s the next. He is her only source of knowledge about the outside world, and he controls the flow of information carefully, warning Nora of the dangers of other people, dangers that only he can protect her from. Unknown to him, however, Nora shares the room with the high-spirited and childish Scout (Sofia Banzhaf).
This “protection” comes to be threatened by Sir’s increasing forgetfulness, as he absentmindedly breaks his own rules, visiting her, for example, three times in one day, a situation that makes Nora both sad for Sir and fearful for her own future. A change will come soon, one way or another.
Greeley’s ostensible inspiration for Kingdom is the recent spate of similar long-term kidnappings, but the play lends itself to more primal and universally symbolic interpretations. (The play does not—wisely I think—suggest any sexual element to Sir’s motivations and, at no point is he physically abusive.)
“Kingdom is gripping, the performances exact. Greeley is an excellent interpreter of her own work and Jones (who can do no wrong) finds the sympathetic note in a character veering between befuddlement and subtle menace.”
At some level, Nora stands in for women’s creativity and potential stifled by a patriarchy that disguises the desire to limit and control as “protection.” Nora’s art bristles with energy and desire, but is restricted by Sir’s control of information, leaving gaps that she must fill in imperfectly with her own imagination and distant memories of life outside the room. When she tells Sir about these creations, he gives her false warnings of the dangers not only of the outside world, but of imagination itself. When she gives her breathless description of castles, for example, he tells her that castles have dungeons where people are tortured. (There is only one Kingdom where Nora may exist, and in that one, Sir is King, and she, his princess.)
Kingdom is gripping, the performances exact. Greeley is an excellent interpreter of her own work, and Jones (who can do no wrong) finds the sympathetic note in a character veering between befuddlement and subtle menace. Bhanzaf is unflagging in a role that requires her to spend half her time exploding with energy and the other half hiding under a bed. In Flora Planchet’s colorful set, the walls meet in a V directly at back centre stage and extend outwards, putting us (and by extension the entire world) in the corner of Nora’s room furthest from the door. (We are perhaps all in her prison.)
My only criticism is of the length of the play. The ideas Greeley introduces deserve more exploration, more time to develop. The relationship between Nora and Sir is the heart of the play and I wish that there had been more scenes between them. (While the scenes of creative game-playing with Nora and Scout are mostly enlivening, and—given the nature of Scout’s identity—important, they are necessarily more limited in their possible dramatic outcomes and, at times, repetitive.) Even with the limitations imposed by the one-room setting and number of characters, there’s a rich mine of ideas and psychological drama here that would benefit from more examination and character interplay; indeed, I think that there’s enough material here for a three-act play.
“But there is a darkness here that points beyond the play…to the larger Kingdom that exists everywhere around us. Greeley is to be commended for showing us that darkness and doing so with grace and precision.”
Incidentally, depending on your own reaction to the situation portrayed and the performances, you might be able to find this play “touching and funny,” as some others have (there were a few light chuckles the night I attended). For me, however, it was as disturbing as it was compelling. When you think about what Sir has done—is doing—it’s difficult to forget the menace and self absorption that underlie even his most apparently tender gestures. (The abusive and controlling man invariably presents himself as loving and full of self-sacrifice, his victim’s welfare his only concern) Greeley’s script and Jones’ performance find the humanity in Sir, and the play is richer for it.
But there is a darkness here that points beyond the play, beyond even the real-life events that partially inspire it, to the larger Kingdom that exists everywhere around us. Greeley is to be commended for showing us that darkness, and doing so with grace and precision.
Kingdom: June 6-8 @ 7pm
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