Greenland (Why Not Theatre and Summerworks ) 2019 Summerworks Review

Photo of Nicolas Billon and Ravi Jain looking at each other and laughing

I don’t think I know enough superlatives to describe Greenland, part of Summerworks 2019.

Ravi Jain’s direction, Claire Calnan, Miriam Fernandes, and Andrew Musselman’s acting, and Nicolas Billion’s script are a magic combination. It has yielded an exquisite, polished theatre gem.

The play is produced by Why Not Theatre with Summerworks, and all proceeds are divided between Summerworks and Environmental Defence.

Greenland was originally produced at Summerworks in 2009 and went on to win the 2013 Governor-General’s Award for Drama as part of the Fault Lines trilogy.

It’s presented as a staged reading but to think of this performance as actors sitting in a row reading from scripts is to do it a huge injustice.  The actors all have scripts but rarely, if ever, refer to them. Instead, they act.

In the middle of the stage there’s a small table and wooden chair, set up like a desk and chair, facing the audience. On the far right there’s an armchair with a small side table, both angled a bit towards the left.  On the far left there’s a lectern and a wooden chair, facing the right side of the stage.

The three characters reveal the story in three exquisitely detailed, conversational monologues — each one delivered in the distinct voice of the character.

Receding ice off the coast of Greenland has led to the discovery of an island previously thought to be part of the mainland. The rift between the island and the mainland mirrors the rift between the discoverer of the island and his family.

Andrew Musselman is Jonathan, a glaciologist who spends his summers in Greenland studying glaciers. Musselman stands near the lectern, which holds his script. He holds a glass of water with ice cubes.

Jonathan is a scientist; he deals in empirical evidence, in facts. He gets excited about ice. Other than that he’s not very emotional. He’s relaxed, he’s complex, he’s planful, he’s in control. I felt as if he was talking to me, telling me how he discovered the island, how he spent the night there, and about his dream which sounded completely out of character.

Judith, his wife,  played by Claire Calnan, is on the opposite side of the stage sitting (lounging) in the armchair with her script on her lap, smoking a cigarette.

She’s a working character actor, a coiled spring of energy. Impulsive, assertive, aggressive, broody, yearning to feel loved. At one point she’s talking about the phone call she got from Jonathan telling her about the island and its “beautiful barren landscape”. The anguish in her voice as she says that’s her, he should love her, is heartbreaking.

Miriam Fernandes plays Judith’s niece, Tanya. She is sitting behind the desk in the middle of the stage, facing the audience. Her script is on the desk. She’s working on a project about Greenland for school.

Tanya is 14 and smart. But still, 14 so has a teenage brain and has experienced more tragedy than anyone should. She’s not particularly kind. She’s not above using tragedy to her benefit.  The bratty glee in her voice when she describes how she convinces her teacher to let her “do Greenland” for her project even though someone else had already chosen it was priceless.

She finds Judith to be humourless. I loved the way she repeated things her mother had said about Judith n such a grown-up way and then quickly added “my mother said”. She really needs a loving adult in her life.  She adores Jonathan and he adores her but he’s not the ‘loving adult’ type.

Billion has written a flawless script. The characters are each so individual. The story unfolds piece by piece from the beginning to the end of the play. It’s as relevant today as it was when it was presented in its first incarnation at SummerWorks in 2009.

I loved Greenland. You really should add it to your must-see list.


Greenland is playing at The Theatre Centre – Franco Boni Theatre (1115 Queen Street West)


  • Sunday August 11th 1:30pm – 2:45pm
  • Thursday August 15th 9:00pm – 10:15pm

Warnings: Coarse language and descriptions of sex

Information on Tickets and Passes

SummerWorks tickets uses a Pay What You Decide system for every show: $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level.

Advance tickets are available up until 3 hours before show time and can be purchased as follows: Online, using the Buy Ticket link found on every show page; In person at the main SummerWorks Festival Box Office the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) – open August 8-18 from 12pm-8pm. Tickets purchased in advance are subject to a convenience fee of $2.50/ticket. Any remaining tickets will be made available for sale at the performance venue starting 1 hour before show time. Venue box offices accept cash only.

Money saving passes are available if you are planning on seeing at least 4 shows.

Photo of Nicolas Billon and Ravi Jain by Dahlia Katz