nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
November 5, 2010
The adventurer Sir Ernest Shackleton has long been one of my heroes. His accomplishments have been an inspiration to people since 1916, including surviving for almost two years in pack ice off the coast of Antarctica without losing a single man of his crew. Overcoming obstacle after seemingly insurmountable obstacle, all the while maintaining a positive attitude and a gracious spirit, he was and is a shining example of leadership.
Split Knuckle's Endurance is a theatrical adventure following the trials and triumph of everyman insurance company worker Walter Spivey, as he rides out the storm of economic downsizing, told in tandem with the tale of Shackleton's Antarctic journey. Thrilling, engrossing, amusing, and brisk, with clever staging, innovative set manipulations, and masterfully overlapping and interwoven stories, the actor/creators create a dance of the monotony of insurance paperwork and a ballet of filing claims, while in the Shackleton sections, we clearly see the stark beauty of the frozen wasteland surrounding the mens doomed ship, feel the camaraderie of the shipwrecked men. Using only four bodies, three desks, and a hat stand, they succeed in creating a wonderful, thought-provoking piece of theatre.
These four amazing men create a dozen distinct characters, a dozen particular situations and locales out of thin air, including cracking pack ice, a ship at sea, a singing shower, a packed bus, comically terrifying garbage-can-clad powers-that-be, all impeccably executed. Jason Bohon, Andrew Grusetskie, Michael F. Toomey, and Greg Webster are truly super studs of the American theatre. They created this piece in collaboration with Nick Ryan and Seth Bloom.
The eerie effect of the encroaching ice, the efforts made by the men in Shackleton's party, by the men in the insurance office to keep going, to keep reaching onward, no matter what fate held in store, had me leaning forward in my seat, hungry for each next morsel. Ken Clark's music selection and composition and Andrew Lynch's musical performance add another layer of icing on this cake; whether it was a snippet of Led Zeppelin's "Hammer of the Gods" or the traditional "Whiskey You're the Devil," the music continuously surprised and delighted me.
The costumes, four variations on the man in the grey flannel suit, tricked out with hats and scarves, are beautifully and simply presented by costumer Lucy Brown. Dan Rousseau created striking and chilling scenes with his clever lighting. And the simple yet uncredited set design deserves applause as well.
Through the stories of Shackleton's journey traversing the Antarctic, and the equally brutal struggle of middle management man Walter Spivek fighting to survive a frightful downsizing, we are invited to discover and explore what true heroism is. Optimism, it is proved, is the true moral courage.
I left the play feeling inspired, and proud, wanting to scream it to the world: "The theatre is not dead! It is vital, and valid and important!"
Last year, I attended a production that boasted a meticulously detailed office set, and yet the pacing of the play was so sluggish, the acting so self-conscious, it seemed a waste. Why bother with fancy sets if the production falls flat? Split Knuckle Theatre's style—physical theater, using our imagination, our voices and bodies to create a vibrant new world—is why we still have theater. Prior to Endurance they created a piece from Steinbeck's The Pearl, and next up is a piece about Phineas Gage. If it's anything like Endurance, I can't wait.