Frostbite, thin ice, backbreaking work and dead puppies are all things you might expect from a story called Shackleton’s Antarctic Nightmare
. A few things you might not expect: a love story between a man and his cat, molting reindeer-hair sleeping bags and incredibly dumb, sledding-down-a-mountain-on-90-feet-of-coiled-rope luck.
Portland Story Theatre’s reprisal of Shackleton’s Antarctic Nightmare recounts the third and final Antarctic expedition of British polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, who in 1914 set out with a crew of 28 to be the first to cross the continent by land. Unsurprisingly, the audience learns that the expedition—nicknamed the “Endurance Expedition”—didn’t quite go as planned. But it’s how we learn of the journey’s failure that makes this one-man play an impressively long and funny history lecture.
With a three-hour running time, Shackleton’s Antarctic Nightmare might start to feel like its own test of endurance. Luckily, it’s performed by Lawrence Howard, who wrote the story in honor of his father and their mutual interest in the explorer. With wry humor—“and then a hurricane blew in,” he says, with perfect dark comic timing—and lively, absorbing imagery of the crew’s experiences, Howard artfully mingles the expedition’s bleakest events with lighter, more encouraging anecdotes. One moment the crew is enjoying a peaceful dinner while watching an Antarctic sunset; in the next they’re abandoning the ship as it’s destroyed by giant ice floes. Backed by quotes and details gleaned from the crew’s own journals, the story, under Howard’s careful and charismatic guidance, becomes a very long, very nerdy black comedy for adrenaline junkies and adventure noobs alike.
GO: Shackleton's Antarctic Nightmare
is at Hipbone Studio, 1847 E Burnside St., 358-0898. 8 pm Fridays-Saturdays through Jan. 25. $15-$35. Tickets here