The television series “Lost” followed people trapped on a tropical island. Primarily driven by character development, the series ran for six seasons. The Gift Theatre’s world premiere of Mat Smart’s “The Royal Society of Antarctica” follows people trapped in a land of ice. Primarily driven by character development, the show runs for three hours.
A young woman signs on to clean toilets in Antarctica to find out what happened to her mother, who gave birth to her there and then disappeared, which, I’m guessing here, makes her a protagonist; her arrival and departure frame the three-act piece. But unless the antagonist is her father, who isn’t there, or her mother, who we presume is dead, or Antarctica itself, it’s challenging to select that construct.
So perhaps the piece is an ensemble play. The secondary characters are extremely compelling, and some have more concrete arcs than the alleged protagonist. I’m reaching, but maybe the anti-protagonist is an Everyman character, who leads us into the story, listens to and observes the characters encountered, and emerges enlightened.
It’s not at all surprising that The Gift’s ensemble was attracted to this play; there are so many stellar roles that suit their members like a glove. And they play them with set-chewing relish. There isn’t a weak link in the cast.
It is left to newcomer Aila Peck, as the searching daughter, to arrive confidently, reveal confusion, spend Act II as confidant, and then veer completely out of character so the piece can end. Peck is tremendous. Non-ensemble members Brian Keys and Kyle Zornes also triumph over motivational confusion.
The Gift is known for the clever designs it uses in its small space. But if I’m watching actors eviscerate themselves to make unnecessarily elaborate set changes, instead of absorbing the previous scene, the design staff must be accused of self-pleasuring.
Remember how pissed off people were when “Lost” ended and so many loose ends were left loose? Whether on a tropical island or a frozen tundra, audiences crave catharsis. (Aaron Hunt)
The Gift Theatre, 4802 North Milwaukee, (773)283-7071, thegifttheatre.org, $35. Through April 26.