Kidnapped at the age of five by a man she knows only as Sir, Nora is now 17 or 18 — she’s not quite sure which — and has spent most of her life within one room.
She has no other outside contact and no television, but she has books, and Sir has educated her quite well, though her understanding of the outside world is somewhat twisted.
One day, when Sir starts showing signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s, he forgets to take the key to the room with him when he leaves, and Nora realizes the decision whether or not to leave is not as easy as she had thought.
“Kingdom” is a play by Meghan Greeley which tells the story of Nora and her captor. With a bachelor’s degree in acting and multiple stage, television and film roles under her belt (including “Crackie” and, later, “Swallowed” and “Warehouse 13”) Greeley began writing the play about three years ago.
“It’s a character that I’ve been thinking about for a really long time,” Greeley said. “It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to only have lived in one room after the time you were five. It’s a really hard thing to wrap your head around, and I don’t think it’s something anyone could fully understand unless they’ve been in that situation.”
Greeley was inspired by a number of real-life kidnappings of young girls, specifically the cases of Natasha Kampusch and Elisabeth Fritzl.
Austrian Kampusch, now 24, was abducted at the age of 10 and kept in a secret cellar by kidnapper Wolfgang Priklopil until she managed to escape eight years later.
Kampusch, who had gradually been given more and more freedom by Priklopil, was vacuuming his car when he walked away to answer his cellphone. She ran away and sought help at a neighbour’s. Priklopil committed suicide the same day.
Fritzl, also of Austria, was 18 when she was lured to the basement of her family’s home by her father, and kept imprisoned for 24 years in a soundproof underground dungeon he had created there. She bore her father’s seven children, and was discovered after her eldest daughter became seriously ill and had to be taken to hospital. Fritzl was sentenced to life in prison.
Both women — and others who have endured similar ordeals, such as Americans Jaycee Lee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart — have had to undergo years of psychiatric therapy to adjust to the world outside of their prisons.
In each of the situations, the women showed some sympathy toward their captors; in Kampusch’s case, she even claimed the house in which she was held from Priklopil’s estate, to save it from being torn down.
“The cases are just so fascinating,” Greeley said. “It’s so morbid, but I was just fascinated by how you develop intellectually in a room, how it stunts your mental growth, and also the relationship between the captor and the kidnapped person. Not only is that person a monster for what they’re doing, but they’re also the only source of anything good in life. They’re the source of the good things they bring to you, but they’re also the ones keeping you there.”
“Kingdom” has been workshopped as part of the Resource Centre for the Arts’ Statoil Playwrighting Series and the Women’s Work Festival, and drew the attention of Ruth Lawrence of White Rooster Productions.
Lawrence is producing the play, with help from award-winning director Michael Waller, at the LSPU Hall June 7-9.
“This one does appear a bit darker, but what I was really impressed by is how Meghan didn’t really focus on the aspects of the story that get sensationalized in the media,” Lawrence said. “I thought that she did a great job of not going after the sensationalism of the pedophilia and the kidnapping, and she was really more interested in what that relationship is, where the captor and the captive grow to depend on each other. I thought she did it in quite a beautiful way, actually. When you see the play, the relationship between the two of them is quite lovely — obviously disfunctional, because of the nature of the situation — but there is an interesting sympathy that she sets up for both characters and their situations. I wanted to see how that would look once it was explored on stage with a professional company.”
The cast consists of Andy Jones, his daughter Marthe Bernard (best known as Tinny on “Republic of Doyle”), and Greeley in the lead role.
She says she didn’t write the play with herself in mind as a cast member.
“I just wrote it because the story interested me,” she said. “That’s just how it worked out.”
Playing Nora is proving to be an interesting challenge, Greeley said, since not only must she show insight into a situation in which she has never been, but it’s the first time she’s acted in one of her own pieces.
“(Michael) is a good director and I really trust his take on the story. If there are some minor discrepancies (in our vision for the production), we’re always able to come to a compromise. It’s his show and I’m acting in it,” she said.
Greeley said she’s honoured to have Jones and Bernard in the play.
White Rooster Theatre has been presenting works written by women for the past 11 years.
Last year, its production of “MonaRita” toured five cities and was named Best Ensemble Performance in the Toronto Fringe by NOW Magazine.
The plan is to tour “Kingdom” across the country as well.
“Hopefully, that will be the future of it,” Greeley said. “Unfortunately, it’s always a timely story. Every time I’ve picked it up to work on it again, there’s been another case that’s come to the media.
“I think it’s something that we really need to put out there and for people to be aware of, so hopefully it will prevent the situation from happening as regularly as it does.”
“Kingdom” will run at the LSPU Hall with 8 p.m. showings June 7-9, and a 2 p.m. pay-what-you-can matinee June 9. Regular tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors) plus tax and surcharge, and can be purchased at the LSPU Hall box office, by calling 753-4531 or online at www.rca.nf.ca.