March 22, 2002

 

Terra Nova

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

For more information about Victory Pictures, please visit victorypictures.net.

(aired 3/28/02 on WFAE)

An ambitious attempt to dramatize one of the 20th centuryís most exciting expeditions is being performed at the Matthews Community Center by Victory Pictures, Inc., an independent film and theatrical company. Terra Nova recounts the British explorer Robert Falcon Scottís tragic attempt to conquer the South Pole. Accompanied by 32 men and the enthusiasm of his nation, Scott sailed for Antarctica in 1910. But as he approached the icy continent, he received word that Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, was en route to beat him. And the race was on.

Terra Nova covers the last leg of this disastrous journey, as Scott and four men labored to plant the British Flag squarely upon the South Pole. The program provided an overview of the expedition, which I highly encourage you to read in order to put the play in a comprehensible context. You will learn that the men were at sea for seven months, and spent the next ten months on Antarctica preparing for the final trek. Amundsenís infringement upon their journey was unexpected and unwelcome. The British, who traveled by foot, reviled Amundsenís unorthodox tactic of hauling his sled with dogs. Terra Nova is based on Scottís journals, which were found on the frozen bodies of Scott and his men.

This painfully cold production left me bewildered as to why playwright Ted Tally thought this story could be effectively dramatized on stage. Revealed in disconnected scenes and confusing hallucinations, the script was so jumbled and the subject matter so frigid that I couldnít figure out what audience it possibly could have satisfied.

Robert Scott, played by Alan McClintock, was a somewhat unlikable man, who in the throws of mid-life crisis, let hubris and arrogance guide his quest for heroism. He was haunted by Amundsen, who has the impossible role as Scottís enemy, subconscious, tormenter, the voice of doubt, and the embodiment of evil. Chris Hicks played Amundsen with much feeling and fervor, but his heavy accent, that seemed to be some combination of French and Austrian, interfered with the complex dialogue and made me work too hard to understand him.

Meanwhile, back in England, Scottís sculptress wife Kathleen appeared in random vignettes. The dialogue indicates that Kathleen was a strong, interesting and dynamic woman. However, Jan Travisí delivery was as strident and icy as the billowing white polar peaks that covered the stage.

With a stronger emphasis on historical context, and a less experimental form of delivery, this play might have captured the adventure of the journey. Where the production does succeed is in its depiction of the bodily misery these men experienced in the bone-jarring cold. Makeup consultant Ryan Fischer captured the essence of men who were actually freezing to death. The only time I felt emotionally affected by the play was in relation to the physical frostbite and lacerations experienced by the men.

These days extreme sports are considered the quintessential adventure. I think the concept of conquering new territory by foot, while racing against another nation, is so politically alien that it could not be captured by the obtuse nature of this play.

Lynn Trenning, March 22, 2002

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