TOM CREAN—ANTARCTIC EXPLORER
nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
Forgotten by history, Tom Crean was a three time Antarctic veteran and
the only man to have served under both Captain Robert Scott and Sir
Ernest Shackleton. Written and performed by Aidan Dooley, Tom Crean—Antarctic
Explorer presents Tom as a lilting, loveable man. As the play
begins, Tom relates basic facts about Antarctica, demonstrates the
clothes you need to wear. You feel you’re on a very special museum field
trip for very intelligent fourth graders. And right when you’re about to
give up all hope for drama, and accept that you’re simply going to learn
some interesting facts from a very nice man, something changes.
August 15, 2003
You’re not on that field trip anymore, you’re in the middle of an incredible survival story. The context is the final expedition of Captain Robert Scott. Tom Crean is part of a team sent back from the expedition a mere 150 miles from the South Pole. After forfeiting a man from their group and a valuable piece of equipment to the men going ahead, Tom and two other men head back to base camp. Heavy with the disappointment of not being allowed to continue, three men do the work of four with not enough rations. Soon, two men are doing the work of four, and they refuse to leave their sick leader behind. For this is not just an action adventure. It is also a meditation on the nature of heroism and on how to treat other human beings.
And the theme of caring about your fellow humans that echoes through the piece also resonates in the acting. Aidan Dooley gives a subtle and intelligent performance, interacting with the audience in a gentle, respectful way, which draws you into this private world as a very special visitor. And the beginning of the play makes some sense when you realize Tom Crean is not the sort of man to lead you into the Antarctic unprepared. For this is ultimately a play about survival, not just of the individual, but of the team. Tom, the ultimate survivor, tells us, "To live is what true heroism is about."