Flat Earth’s ‘Terra Nova’ packs a powerful punch
WATERTOWN — Where does duty to God and country end and duty to family begin? Does not outweigh the other?
And do you, as family man, have the right to seek your glory and follow your dreams no matter what?
Arctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott dodged death in his first try to become the first man to reach the South Pole, but the gallant failure that made him both a celebrity and a heroin his native England left a bitter taste in his mouth and spurred him to make a second attempt that ended in tragedy.
We know there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but that doesn’t make their journey any less compelling in the Flat Earth Theatre production of Ted Tally’s “Terra Nova,” the harrowing tale of the second Scott expedition to the South Pole — the Terra Nova Expedition — which ultimately took the lives of Scott and four other members of his crew: Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans.
Tally won an Oscar for his adapted screenplay of “The Silence of the Lambs” and he has fashioned a gripping tale based on the true-life story of Scott, aided by the journal Scott kept of the expedition and letters he left behind.
“Terra Nova” will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions, even with the final outcome never in doubt. You’ll feel admiration, inspiration from their fearlessness, courage and determination, and finally horror and disgust at what ends up being a senseless loss of life.
It begins with Scott near death in 1912, looking back on the events that led him to his final resting place in the Ross Sea area of Antarctica.
Chris Chiampa’s Captain Scott is quite taken by his own celebrity, especially after a long career that has seen him married to the Royal Navy since the age of 13.
He captures the pride, determination and Scott, but also his hubris — the arrogance or conceit that will eventually prove deadly. There were mistakes and mishaps along the way, but Scott and his men were also the victims of bad luck and bad timing.
In one flashback, Scott meets Kathleen Bruce (Kamela Dolinova), the sculptor and socialite, in 1907. They get married despite her great skepticism about his exploring, and she wonders about his decision to get married relatively late in life.
Dolinova brings grace and charm to the character. “I was just one more piece of unexplored territory,” she explains at one point about her relationship with Scott.
When he tells her — just a couple of years into their marriage and with a young son — about his plans to return to the Arctic, he says that he will forego them with one word from her. But she knows that he will never be happy if he doesn’t return.
Tally has made Roald Amundsen — whose Norwegian party reached the South Pole on Dec. 14, 1911, 33 days before Scott, rendering his achievement virtually meaningless — one of the central characters in the play, and Samuel Frank does a solid job as Amundsen, who haunts Scott as a kind of Greek chorus, questioning him, interrogating him, pleading with him and goading him.
Frank as Amundsen is always front and center when Scott is making a decision, and Scott is haunted by the fact the that even if he survives and returns to England after reaching the South Pole, he will live in Amundsen’s shadow forever.
The other crew members are also rock-solid. James Hayward brings a moral compass to Wilson, the caring, compassionate scientist; Robin Gabrielli is earnest and heroic as Evans, whose injury is the first body blow to the expedition but who gallantly soldiers on to the end; and Matt Arnold and Kevin Kordis are also just fine as Bowers and Oates.
Scott made his final journal entry on March 29, 2012, with its concluding words: “Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people.”
Perhaps guilt-ridden at the thought of leaving his family behind, he also left this passage:
“We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last … Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.”
Indeed, one of the most powerful scenes has the crew members telling Scott they would do it all again even as they faced almost certain death
Brad Smith’s sound design effectively recreates atmosphere of the howling, relentless winds of the most desolate place on earth Nikki DeSimini’s simple staging and and Chris Bocchiaro’s lighting also work effectively together.
Director Jake Scaltreto has coxed strong performances across the board, and the engrossing “Terra Nova” — like the Antarctic where it takes place — packs a powerful punch.
The Flat Earth Theatre production of Ted Tally’s “Terra Nova.” Directed by Jake Scalpetro.At the Black Box Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through Feb. 28. http://www.flatearththeatre.com
Bowers is played by Matt Arnold, and Set Design was done by Niki DeSimini.