By Karen Tarjan
Directed by Robert Kauzlaric
Produced by Irish Theatre of Chicago
At The Den Chicago
Amazing adventure of 2oth century explorers highlights endurance, tenacity and the power of the human spirit.
If there ever was a ‘director’s show.’ it is director Robert Kauzlaric’s world premiere of Karen Tarjan’s The White Road. This ambitious work uses an evocative set by Merje Veski with terrific visuals form Smooch Medina;s projections that contain enough ship, ice and water to launch us into the world of the forbidding Antarctic in 1914. Kauzlaric’s staging vividly and ambitiously tells the story of the journey of discovery attempted in 1914 by a group of Irish and English adventurers as they attempt to cross Antarctica from sea to sea via the South Pole. Since the South Pole is one of the last places on earth needing exploration, it became the obsession of Ernest Shackleton (Paul Dunckel).
We meet him as he uses unique screening methods to pick his 26 man crew. He asks each candidate “how to you sleep?” Shackleton’s psychological screening of his crew served him and the expedition well as they all survived almost three years of hardship as they tried to conquer one of nature’s cruel environments. This engrossing adventurous drama features a wonderful cast of ten who represented the 26 member crew of the ship, The Endurance, that brought them into the unforgiving icy waters of Antarctica. From Worsley, the ship’s captain (Kevin Theis) to the crew members; Crean (Matthew Isler) Mcllroy (Nicholas Bailey),McNeish (Stevce Herson), Wild (Michael McKeogh), Hurley (Neal Starbird), Oede-Lees (Joesph Stearns), Vincent (Stephen Walker) and Blackborrow (Gage Wallace). Schackleton’s quirky collection of adventurers were a loyal bunch who trusted and obeyed Shackleton whose leadership inspired the crew to endure.
The plan was to anchor the ship at a point where the crew could embark on their ill-fated plan to cross Antarctica but the ship got encased in ice that built up and crushed the ship forcing the crew to put their lifeboats on a large ice pack -The White Road. They drifted for days that turned into weeks as the harsh conditions threatened the crew’s survival skills. The story of their experiences would have been too preposterous if it was fiction but since it was true, playwright Karen Tarjan captured each of her ten character’s quirkiness as each struggled with both physical endurance ( hunger, bitter cold) and with the psychological effects of loneliness,boredom and isolation. Their patience was their main asset.
This drama depicts the near impossible conditions and problems that these adventurers had both at sea and on land. We see how Shackleton’s determination to return to where most of his crew was marooned became a passion with him. Somehow he knew that they would survive for months as they waited for their rescue.. With terrific staging and the fabulous video projections, The White Road plays as an interesting look at the adventures of 20th century explorers. Paul Dunckel’s commanding performance as Shackleton and Gage Wallace’s empathetic portrayal of the innocent stowaway Blackborrow highlight the dedicated cast.
Once you see this fine show, you’ll be amazed how the crew all survived over two years of hardship. For something theatrically ambitious that stimulates our imaginations, The White Road delivers the enduring journey of this group of explorers as they try to conquer one of the last unexplored places on earth. This ensemble work is first class!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 5, 2105
For more info checkout The White Road page at theatreinchicago.com
At The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL