In one pivotal scene in Frozen Fluid—the latest production to take over the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre—Tay, a nonbinary phytoplankton scientist at a research lab in Antarctica has become fed up with the other two scientists they’ve been cooped up with.
Terra, a whale researcher who is distraught at the increasingly common sight of beached whales dying on the ice, is using her body to stop the other two from disposing of a pregnant cow that washed up in the area. The calf might still be alive, she says—it’s a God-given life, and it’s her obligation to do what she can for it. During the heated back and forth, Tay grows more and more agitated. Science and religion are incompatible, they say. Scientists who believe in God don’t exist.
“The other scientist [Terra] says, ‘Don’t tell me that I don’t exist,’” says director Amanda McRaven, describing the exchange. “Then we flash to a scene with Tay’s mother, where she’s essentially telling them that they don’t exist. It’s this spiral of learned behavior that we don’t even realize is learned. It’s just the water we’re all swimming in, all the time.”
From there, the play, written by Fly Jamerson, grows increasingly abstract, ruminating on everything from gender, identity, religion, climate, and time itself—all of the systems that seem to govern our lives and identities, constantly forcing us into uncomfortable boxes. Described as a “gender nonconforming creation myth,” the play asks, What if we could start over?
“It’s so imaginative and so rich; I could work on it for years and always be uncovering something else,” says McRaven. “I think Fly’s really managed to capture the experience of being in between—of being gender-free, of being nonbinary, of being queer—by writing a play that’s not what people expect a play to be. And that’s just really exciting to work on.”
It’s so imaginative and so rich; I could work on it for years and always be uncovering something else.Amanda McRaven, director, Frozen Fluid
Bringing a mythic-scale project to a 50-seat black box theater is no small feat, but the production—co-produced by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Coeurage Ensemble—uses clever set design and immersive sound effects to bring the Antarctic tundra to life.
“We physically took away a lot of the things you would expect to see in a theater, like black walls and black drapes, and we painted a horizon on it. We tried to physically make it feel more open,” says McRaven. “We tried to make it feel like an immersive experience, not just sitting and watching a play, but like you were dropped into Antarctica.”
But it was the cast that really made the play come alive, McRaven says. Nicole Delsack, Michael Budd, and Yvonne Cone make up the show’s entire ensemble, playing multiple versions of their characters, who morph and change as the show progresses.
“I was working on it for so long on my own, but [it clicked] when we finally got in the room with the actors,” says McRaven. “We were talking about the play, what it means for them, and the actors were able to simplify it with me. One of them said, ‘You can’t go out on the ice alone,’ which is one of the lines in the play. And I was like, that’s what it’s about.”
Though the characters clash frequently throughout the performance—over gender, over religion, over the rights of unborn baby whales—the one thing that keeps their boots firmly planted in the ice, even as every other part of them gets stripped away, is the connection they have to one another.
“In the end, you can’t figure anything out on your own. You have to have your people,” says McRaven. “To hear them distill it down to, You can’t go out on ice alone—yeah, that’s it. That’s what it’s about.”
Frozen Fluid is now playing at the Davidson/Valentini Theatre through Dec. 17.