Theater Review: Plan-B Theatre Company's THE ICE FRONT | Buzz Blog
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Theater Review: Plan-B Theatre Company's THE ICE FRONT

A World War II era historical footnote becomes a lesson for The Age of Trump.


The cast of The Ice Front - RICK POLLOCK
  • Rick Pollock
  • The cast of The Ice Front
It's an inevitable by-product of the Age of Trump that virtually all new art will be viewed through its lens: What does it say about who we have become, or who we are fighting? But there's a particularly fascinating contemporary subtext to Eric Samuelsen's The Ice Front, and its world-premiere production by Plan-B Theatre Company, despite the plot being inspired by events more than 70 years ago. As people describe themselves as part of "The Resistance," it's worth asking what it means to resist, and what we're willing to risk in order to make it harder for evil to flourish.

Set in 1943 Nazi-occupied Oslo, Norway, The Ice Front introduces the members of a state-run national theater company, who are faring better than most under the Vichy-esque puppet government, even if that makes them seem to some more like collaborators than patriots. Their comfort is tested, however, by a mandate that they perform a new play called The Last Scream, which amounts to little more than propaganda based on the play's scheming Jewish antagonist. While some object more strongly than others, eventually they come to an agreement: They're going to do everything they can to sabotage  and delay the premiere of The Last Scream.

Samuelsen's text spends a lot of time at the outset describing the circumstances of the place and time, which could have come off as a whole lot of expository throat-clearing if not for some energetic staging by director Jerry Rapier. The cast efficiently establishes the roles of the many characters—stage manager Birgit (Stephanie Howell); gay leading man Anders (Robert Scott Smith); respected veteran Peter (Daniel Beecher); grande dame Astrid (Christy Summerhays); ingenue Bente (Emilie Starr); rebellion-minded Mette (Ariana Broumas Farber); secretly Jewish Egil (Jay Perry)—establishing that the drama will come as much from the company members' internal conflicts as from their encounters with Nazi-cooperating producer Morten (Mark Fossen) or the German soldier assigned to watch over them (Topher Rasmussen).

Those internal conflicts revolve around one of the more controversial topics of the year: Are there ideas so offensive and inhuman that giving them an airing is indefensible? As the actors wrestle with whether or not they can be part of the play simply because it's their job, and how even Shakespeare makes a Jew a villain, Samuelsen explores the thorny connection between "free speech" and the question of whether that speech might result in real-world suffering.

But he's also digging into the individual consequences of fighting against power, albeit set in a time when opposition could be a death sentence. The Ice Front keeps its concept entertaining as the company members come up with increasingly elaborate ways of hindering their own show—intentionally breaking one actor's foot, or faking a pregnancy—while evoking a mix of The Producers and Inglourious Basterds. It is, however, clearly a story of conscience, including the things we can try to convince ourselves so that we don't feel obliged to take action. At the risk of Godwin's Law-ing the notion of fighting against power in 2017 America, The Ice Front confronts the moments when every instinct you have tells you that doing nothing just isn't good enough any more.