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Burning Coal Theatre’s ‘A Hundred Words for Snow’ is a Mind Trip… but are Audiences Ready?

Tatty Hennesy’s play A Hundred Words for Snow, which opens Burning Coal Theatre’s season, is a smart coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old girl who ventures to the North Pole alone to assuage her grief following her father’s funeral.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions and the taxing demands of this part, Laura Lillian Baggett and Kimmy Fiorentino share the lead role in this production. At the Sunday afternoon performance, Fiorentino, in one her strongest performances to date, convincingly flitted about the stage with all the awkward whimsy and angst of a pubescent teen.

Josh W. Martin’s exquisite design, from the ethereal lighting to delicate set, figuratively showcases Rory’s rite of passage story. And Nikolas Parnell’s sound design dutifully intensifies the multisensory experience.

Where things begin to go awry is in Jerome Davis’ heavy-handed interpretation of the piece that feels contradictory to its intent. It is also perplexing to me, that amidst a pandemic, any theater would create an experiential piece of performance art that requires patrons to wear a blindfold (on top of the mandated mask requirement).

To be clear, the run time of this play is 75 minutes. Approximately 20 minutes in, the audience is given a cue and told to put on a blindfold. The next 50 minutes are spent with your eyes, nose, and mouth covered, as a crew whizzes about the space, moving set pieces, standing, and casting shadows. After a few minutes, a device that could have been used sparingly and effectively, begins to feel gratuitous and robs the audience of what could have been a glorious theater experience.

It should go without saying that even the most ardent theatergoer may be apprehensive about returning to live shows. Perhaps Burning Coal should have considered that before experimenting on an already fragile and fatigued audience.

A Hundred Words for Snow runs through October 30th. For more information visit https://burningcoal.org/.

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