David Pratt, Lambda Award-winning author of Bob the Book, plus the author of three other novels and a collection of short stories, has come out with a new work: Two Plays: The Snow Queen, November Door. Originally written almost twenty years ago, The Snow Queen is based upon a short story Pratt wrote by the same name. The two plays are here presented together for the first time. Both plays focus on the same two characters (the Narrator, Steven Underwood, and Jo Osbourne) and each presents a different pivotal time when their lives intersected.
The first play, The Snow Queen, takes place in the Narrator’s hometown in north central Connecticut, when he is eleven, and Jo is thirty-eight. The Narrator remembers how and when he first met Jo, describing the beginnings, trajectory, and eventual ending of their brief friendship. Jo is an adult, but unlike all the other adults that the Narrator knows: she lives alone, the other townspeople ostracize her, and it is clear that she recognizes a kindred (read: queer, in all senses of the word) spirit in the young Narrator. She, unlike the other people in the Narrator’s life, accepts him as he is. Unfortunately, due to outside forces (and Steven’s insecurities) their friendship does not last. The second, November Door, occurs twenty-seven years later in the same town, when Jo is sixty-five, and the Narrator is now thirty-eight: for different reasons (but both stemming from their common queerness) both characters have left town; and also for different reasons, both have returned—she permanently, he temporarily.
The first play occurs during the fall/early winter of 1968, ending at Christmas, while the second happens just before Thanksgiving of 1995, which suits the meditative, nostalgic quality of the narrative. Despite the explicit historical references in both plays, there is a timeless quality to the story. Both plays have to do with remembering the past, but with different purposes. The Snow Queen is mostly an interior play: Steven, as the Narrator, does all the reminiscing, making his first steps toward self-discovery, whereas in November Door, both characters are present, confronting each other and the past, especially the intervening years after the events of the first play. The gentle, poignant tone of the first play is replaced by a sharper, less forgiving tone in the second as both characters are forced to come to terms with their actions and the resulting ramifications.
Personally, I feel that a play—like poetry—should be performed, not merely read silently (sometimes even regular fiction should be read aloud.) Although each play is complete in itself and could be performed separately, the two plays together form a diptych and, therefore, I think, should be performed (or at least read) together. (Apparently each play premiered in subsequent years. I don’t know if they have ever been produced together.) Given the interior nature of The Snow Queen, it would not be necessary to perform it first, even though the events it portrays occur earlier than those in November Door—I wondered as I read the two plays, if the Narrator was actively remembering the events of the first play while experiencing the events of the latter. It would be too confusing to produce both plays simultaneously, obviously, but this heightens the sense that the story takes place outside of linear time. And while you can not leave the past or escape it, sometimes you can make your peace with it.
Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske