It's pretty clear that all of the events, thoughts, feelings, and crises that happen on stage at Brian Lane Green's Waiting For The Glaciers To Melt are either taking place in the head of Garrett (Stephen Bienskie) -- or not. It's a standard ploy, but it's also clear that that what happens on stage is both more, and less, than seems to be intended.
As the show opens, Bienskie, Queen Esther, Eric Millegan, and Matt Zarley come on in various guises singing the stunningly good "Do You Have the Time" (Green also did the excellent vocal arrangements), which sets up conflict, theme, and mood. It also reveals Green's weakness for Symbolism. By the fifth or sixth time that time, and waiting, or water, or any combination thereof, were invoked, it became more a matter of waiting out the plot, or getting lost in a fine song that seems only tenuously attached to the matters at hand.
Bits and pieces of Garrett's childhood are remembered as he's waiting for the results of a medical exam, cueing dreams and voices asking him why he waited so long (Time!). The question points to the exam being an HIV test, but the drama (and the Symbolism) indicates much more is intended. A song about "Icons" lists Mother Teresa, Marilyn, and Garrett's first girlfriend, and invokes waiting as well as what icons do best -- crumble. "Poplar Way" recalls two men living together in the neighborhood where Garrett grew up who had to face the condemnation of the town, but whose house was the only one where "love flowed out the door." Garrett is joined in this song by Lucky (Zarley), who seems for now to be a kind of alter ego, similarly weighted with Symbolism.
But there's a parallel story as well, that of Simon (Millegan), a boy who blames himself (in the way that only a fourth-grader can) for the death of his parents. His body has completely shut down and he's confined to a wheelchair. But he is wearing a bright red scarf -- hey, wasn't Garrett wearing a bright red scarf in the opening? And is that navy t-shirt and jeans Garrett and Simon have on just a look, or . . .. Symbolism not only wasn't very far from the surface here, it became the surface.
But each time Glaciers threatened to become songs in search of a musical, Queen Esther took her role as Simon's caretaker grandmother and ran off in compassionate, surprising, and theatrically sophisticated ways. The role isn't much, and she tells Simon things like birds being meant to fly, and dreams being meant to come true. But she conveyed humanness and meaning, so that when Simon sings of her curing a hurt bird, and how she said that a broken wing will mend stronger, Esther had made it seem, even in the face of all the Symbolism, as if it just might be true. She even made the story of her taking a dance class character-driven, rather than strictly Symbolic.
And then there's the Symbolism of water. The story of a man frozen in a glacier is brought up (remember, Garrett is semi-immobile, waiting for test results), but it cues the title tune, another fine, well-sung, and well-arranged song (musical direction by Mitch Samu). There's a Jacuzzi, a story about sailing in the rain, more flying, and more damage/cure imagery. And it all leads up to a resolution -- oh, so that's what the Lucky character was all about (and dig the Symbolism of his name!) that while a narrative cheat, brings the water/glacier Symbolism to a neat conclusion.
If Waiting For The Glaciers To Melt has a touch (or a shovelful) of autobiography to it, it's a pleasure to report that Green has come out the other end relatively unscathed. And his cast did wonders (with the help of director Kristen Coury) navigating the pitfalls of Symbolism. And next time, maybe he'll hire a book writer to complement his songwriting skills.
Book 1/Music 2/Lyrics 2
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Copyright 2003 David Mackler