Tom Crean: Antartic Explorer

  • Date:
    July 1, 2007
    Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus

    Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus

    Ever notice that when teachers, or anyone with a lot of vacation time for that matter, get together, the first thing they talk about is their travels? At Irish Rep last week, just such a conversation got underway among audience members, and it seems that the most exciting vacation destination lately is not the inland waterways of Alaska, the Galapagos, or the Norwegian fjords, but Antarctica.

    This frigid outpost has become a popular hotspot ever since the penguin craze hit America. Intrepid travelers, often traveling alone, board a ship from Chile, trek on glaciers, shake hands with ole� �Happy Feet� himself, and live to tell the tale. Today these trips are taken in luxury, but early 20th century explorers traveled in ferociously different conditions.

    In the history of South Pole exploration, the names that stand out are Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott, and of course, Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton's Expedition on the famed ship Endurance had a crew of 28 men and lasted two years. Yet these brave crewmen remain pretty much anonymous today, except for one -- Tom Crean -- having been brought to our attention by writer and actor, Aidan Dooley, who believed this man especially deserved a more prominent place in history.

    No matter how fascinating are the stories of today's travelers to the Antarctic, none can compare with what Crean endured in his dangerous excursions for the British Navy in the early 1900s. This is a tale worth listening to as it is told by gifted storyteller Dooley in his portrayal of Crean in "Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer."

    In a tour-de-force performance, punctuated by incredible emotional outbursts, Dooley has us shivering with him on his remarkable journeys to reach the South Pole with not much more than faith in himself and the men on his team.

    Clothed, not in the fur parkas, scientifically insulated jackets and headgear as are the privileged 21st century cruise-line travelers of today, but in primitive �jumpers," cotton windbreakers, balaclavas, mittens, and wooden goggles, Crean and his crew, headed by Shackleton, traversed the icy continent, never, alas, to reach the coveted destination.

    At one point during the third expedition, with the crew stranded on Elephant Island in -90 degree temperatures, Shackleton, Crean, and four other crew members set out alone in a lifeboat, rowed 800 miles till they reached South Georgia Island, then with help from a Chilean tugboat operator, went back to rescue those they'd left four months earlier, not knowing whether they were dead or alive.

    Heroes all, these men forged paths where no one had been before, and they did it three times. To us, they seemed mad, but for them it was their manifest destiny.

    Dooley spins the sailor�s yarn with all the bravado one would expect from an early explorer. With a face as Irish as a leprechaun's, and a brilliantly executed Irish accent, his conversation with the audience -- asking questions about their own experiences -- is endearing, but we leave exhausted, as if we ourselves had hauled the lifeboats, the dogs, and provisions for the two hours we spent with him.

    We leave thankful that the ships of the Norwegian Lines, builders of Endurance, are better provisioned today so that modern-day Antarctic adventurers don't wind up eating seal for dinner. We leave knowing that seal blood, thread, nails, and oil paint are lifesavers. And we leave in awe of Aidan Dooley, actor extraordinaire, and his mesmerizing tale.

    Take your parkas, and everyone you know, to Irish Rep where Dooley's Tom Crean sets sail seven times a week until September 9th. Then call your travel agent.

    Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus

    What the press had to say.....

    Ginia Bellafante of The New York Times: �So what was Crean thinking and why did he bother? It is the question that keeps gnawing at you, but Mr. Dooley remains decidedly uninterested in the psychological roots of Crean�s relentlessness. At two hours the play is certainly long enough to accommodate the inquiry, but Mr. Dooley indulges in narrative where he ought to supply analysis."

    MARK BLANKENSHIP of VARIETY: "While an outside director could smooth some rough patches -- Dooley speaks so quickly that he can trip over his words -- his acting is largely as polished as his script. "

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times