Dystopian fiction predict a distant future where morals and ethics are forgotten and post-apocalyptic humans kill to survive. But what if dystopia is no longer fiction? What if we are already staring at a climate apocalypse?
The play In the Sand and the Snow being staged at Tangalwood this weekend is set in just such a world. Directed by Deborah Merola the screenplay is adapted from The New York Times piece in 2019, Imagining America in 2024 by Adam Rapp. Its name derives from its settings in the two Acts: the Arabian Peninsula (sand) and the Arctic (snow).
Read also: Replaying male machismo, Sewa Bhattarai
The curtains part on two soldiers guarding a desert. They are homesick and sing songs to pass the time. An animal wanders between them, and a woman enters with a baby, hurling abuses. Finally she leaves, dumping the baby on them.
No spoilers, but tales of crass youngsters killing innocents are a genre unto themselves. They include classics like Lord of the Flies (1954) and the glamourised Hunger Games (2012). But seeing such violence acted out on stage is even more chilling than on screen. It brings out the truth that such violence is being perpetrated in wars around the world there and then, even while we are in the theatre.
There are elements of the abstract and the absurd in this play, meandering between disparate incidents without connections. We realise that soldiers are actually actors, and that an audience of 12 people is watching the play. They sit in the front row along with the real audience. But only they get an intermission, and the real audience watches them take a break.
A disturbingly violent scene, another one with intense lovemaking in the restroom are accompanied by graphic descriptions inject absurdity into the play and add elements of meta-commentary. The ‘audience’ gets back to front row seats and watch the beginning of Act 2, which is exactly like Act 1. A woman forces a baby on two soldiers, except that this time it is an icy world.
The difference is that this time the performance is interrupted, by a stage manager who accuses a government officer – who can loosely be described as a censor – of not watching the entire play. The reference to government control on the arts worldwide is a raging issue of our times. The stage manager and soldiers forcibly take the officer offstage, raising doubts about whether the soldiers are actors.
In the Sand and the Snow raises more questions than it answers. The soldiers do not know what they are guarding, and have no idea what their orange flag symbolises. The audience, both real and acting, do not know why animals wander into the play. Deaths of characters leave no traces, making you question if they actually happened.
These are the times we live in: violence changes relationships and severs connections, whether we are active or passive in our participation in this dystopian reality, whether censorship is increasing in our world, whether it could lead to use of force in retaliation, and whether that makes things any better.
This is a disturbing play. But we live in disturbing times. This is real escapism: where we escape from real-world dystopia to one on stage.
In the Sand and the Snow
5PM and 7PM, 9 Feb
Club 25 Hours, Tangalwood