Out of Iceland

by Drew Larimore
Directed by Josh Hecht
Featuring Michael Bakkensen, Jillian Crane, Lea DeLaria
Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street
April 1, 2012 — April 22, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
March 31, 2012

  • “The middle isn’t about the middle it’s about who’s there with you.”
  • “The traveler is brave, bold daring. The tourist – typical, scared.”
(L-R) Michael Bakkensen, Lea DeLaria, Jillian Crane. Image by Richard Termine.

A lovely reason to visit 46 Walker Street for the next few weeks is Lea Delaria as an Icelandic troll (and her appearance in a rounded be-feathered Bjork-ish swan-ish costume, one of several costumes she sports during the evening) singing an Icelandic version of “Bali Hai.”  Unfortunately, DeLaria’s energetic imp, with an accent that might remind some of Gilda Radner‘s character Roseanne Roseannadanna, at points overwhelms the delicate nature of this script involving a women seeking her own fortune in a mythic land in the middle of nowhere and a young man who lives and works there. This is not Ms. DeLaria’s fault, but appears to be a challenge in the choices made by the director and the actors in the other two roles. There may be several plays going on at the same time, and the story of the singing troll, I believe, is not the story the playwright wants us to ponder most.

I read this play in an earlier incarnation (then called Out of Askja) as a submission to a new play development program. I was charmed by that prior read, and continue to see the charms and the possibilities of this story, though certain key dimensions have been changed or were unclear to me in these performances. Writer Caroline Miller (Jillian Crane) falls into an Icelandic volcanic lake while visiting Askja, in the middle country, and is fished out by Hal (Michael Bakkensen), a kind of area park ranger, who brings her home to recover from her head wound. In the prior version, Caroline is revealed not to be a visitor from the States but an immigrant to Iceland who has a reputation for visiting an area, for researching its cherished histories and traditions, and then publishing re-imaginings of the events of the past that insult historians. In the version produced here, Caroline’s reasons for visiting are to write a book on the early settlers of Iceland and explore some of her theories about their relationship, but further context for her history as a writer are not clearly presented (or I missed them). Caroline and Hal are brought together romantically through the intervention of imp Thor (Lea DeLaria), who is both magical and real, emerging out of a television, and revealing himself to be a sprite-god who messes with Caroline and Hal’s belongings (from hiding Hal’s truck to messing with his maps and paintings) to get them together.

The play’s setting on the page is theatrical and ripe with opportunities for sound and set and lighting designs, many of which are realized here. The twee conceit of a god figure in residence on the stage is charming and works here in the delightful gossamer set conceived by Narelle Sissons, all bright white iceberg-like moveable scrims and wooden bird houses in bright red that rise and descend at certain moments. What gets buried in this production, however, are the playwright’s commentary on drafts of history (who drafts, how much fiction is present, how beloved cultural icons are treated) and a balance of humor across all the performances. DeLaria’s Thor is clearly in her sweet spot of strong and irreverent and vocally resonant and silly and masterful.  Even when pulling a toy truck across the stage, she is riveting.  Bakkensen’s Hal is quiet, calm, quirky in his own way as a man born in Kentucky, reared in Iceland, and ends up with an almost unplaceable Appalachian accent.  More problematic is the earnest, uncomfortable, not entirely rooted characterization of Crane’s Caroline, our visitor and emissary into the Icelandic alien world. This Caroline is not quite believable as the constant traveler for the rest of the chaos and comedy to bounce against.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 2, 2012)

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