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 Theatreâs reprisal of Shackletonâs 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 expeditionânicknamed the âEndurance Expeditionââdidnât quite go as planned. But itâs how we learn of the journeyâs failure that makes this one-man play an impressively long and funny history lecture.
With a three-hour running time, Shackletonâs Antarctic Nightmare might start to feel like its own test of endurance. Luckily, itâs performed by Lawrence Howard, who wrote the story in honor of his father and their mutual interest in the explorer. With wry humorââand then a hurricane blew in,â he says, with perfect dark comic timingâand lively, absorbing imagery of the crewâs experiences, Howard artfully mingles the expeditionâs bleakest events with lighter, more encouraging anecdotes. One moment the crew is enjoying a peaceful dinner while watching an Antarctic sunset; in the next theyâre abandoning the ship as itâs destroyed by giant ice floes. Backed by quotes and details gleaned from the crewâs own journals, the story, under Howardâs careful and charismatic guidance, becomes a very long, very nerdy black comedy for adrenaline junkies and adventure noobs alike.