The Great Frozen Man

Institute History

  • 1999 Theatre Lab


Jeannine Saunders, Kennedy Center, Jean Kennedy Smith Playwright Award Grantee

Sixty-year-old Arlin awakes from a severe stroke. Arlin appears in a large Plexiglas box. He may move about and speak freely, although the rest of the cast is cut off from him by the stroke and deal only with the box. His family includes Grace, his wife of 40 years, June, who is “Daddy’s girl” and unable to cope with the stress of her life, Jason, her son, is alone, physically without a father and emotionally without a mother. The only person to bridge the gaps is Arlin, but he is powerless to help because the stroke leaves him without traditional communication methods. As he watches his family struggle, it becomes clear to him that he is the only one who can bring the family together and soon develops a “telepathic” ability and rushes to the aid of his family.

I decided to write a play for my Masters thesis, and after considering and discarding many ideas, I decided to investigate and create a play about my maternal grandfather. He was the source of many of my happy childhood memories. When I was nine years old he was afflicted with the same type of stroke that “Arlin” suffers in THE GREAT FROZEN MAN. He was simply confined to a chair or a bed, and my grandmother cared for him. He had no means of communication other than grunts or eye blinking, nor could he move. After his death much later, my mother told me that his brain itself was intact, it was only his brain stem that was damaged. This began to haunt me. He was virtually a prisoner in his own head. I began to wonder what he could do that we didn’t know about. It is well known that the blind hear better and the deaf often have “eagle” eyesight. I wondered if he could do things with the only part of him he had left, his mind, that others couldn’t do. And THE GREAT FROZEN MAN was born. It’s not closely biographical More of a dream really, and definitely a tribute to my grandparents who made such a difference in my life.
—Jeannine Saunders


As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]