×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer

In "Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer," the sun glaring off a glacier doesn't just blind you, it makes you feel like someone is "poking you in the eyes with a hot stick." Pack ice (cq pack, not packed) at the bottom of the world isn't just uneven, it's like "a 14-year-old boy's face, coming out all over the place."

With:
Tom Crean - Aidan Dooley

In “Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer,” the sun glaring off a glacier doesn’t just blind you, it makes you feel like someone is “poking you in the eyes with a hot stick.” Pack ice at the bottom of the world isn’t just uneven, it’s like “a 14-year-old boy’s face, coming out all over the place.” Details like these make Aidan Dooley’s solo show, about the real-life Irishman who explored the South Pole three times between 1901 and 1916, a banquet for the ears. Words create adventure that’s just as vivid as the special effects in a Hollywood bonanza.

For every description of expeditions going wrong — a naval officer’s teeth turning black with scurvy, a man’s face getting slashed by frostbite — Dooley includes a rousing aside about whipping down a mountain on a sled, or steering a lifeboat through a blizzard. The character is endearing because the horrors of his South Pole journeys haven’t quenched his excitement about what he did there. He still sounds awed that he’s lived such a life.

Ultimately, Crean’s humility defines the play. He was an inarguable hero — even receiving Britain’s Albert Medal for saving two of his fellow explorers. But Dooley keeps him talking reverentially about his commanding officers, the iconic Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

This means Scott and Shackleton become the epic heroes while Crean remains an average guy. When he describes his death-defying feats, it’s easier to imagine them happening to us, and that relatability makes his tale more engrossing.

Dooley, who also directs and designed sets and costumes, brings similar folksiness to his performance. Still in character, he often stops to ask audience members what they think about the show, and his easygoing charm makes the interruptions feel natural.

Of course, he ought to know how to sell his material by now. He’s been touring it around the world since 2003, including a stop at the New York Intl. Fringe Festival. And 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.

Visual touches raise the show beyond a simple monologue. When Crean describes the cocoon of clothing you need at the South Pole, he puts on every layer, and the mound of costume pieces complements the loneliness of the set. Before a blue-black curtain dotted with small lights, our hero stands on a small blanket. He has a lantern and a bag, and there’s a sled hanging mid-air behind him, but otherwise, the stage is empty and black.

Swaddled in his clothes and isolated on stage, Crean becomes as much a universal metaphor for personal struggle as a storyteller. Like most people, he wandered into a cold, lonesome world, and he had to fight to survive. Despite his suffering, though, he emerged with his spirits high.

Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer

Irish Repertory Theater; 144 seats; $60 top

Production: An Irish Repertory Theater presentation, in association with Northern Stage, Fairbank Prods. and Play on Word Theater, of a play in two acts written and directed by Aidan Dooley.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Dooley; lighting, Brian Nason; production stage manager, Janice M. Brandine. Opened July 22, 2007. Reviewed July 19. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Tom Crean - Aidan Dooley

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content