Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

There are no adorable penguin stories in Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer. Any flightless cuties this obscure Irish figure encountered on his expeditions to the South Pole often became food for his stranded men. In playwright-performer Aidan Dooley's earnest and heartfelt solo, the hardships faced by the explorers that ventured to the "last place on earth" in the early 20th century are unflinchingly depicted. It's a riveting, albeit awkward tale of endurance in the face of near death.

Crean took part in three expeditions to Antarctica, serving under both Captain Robert Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. Although he never achieved his goal of setting foot on the South Pole, his bravery—some might call it insanity—impelled him to walk 40 miles in 20 hours to rescue two stranded comrades. Later, he traveled 800 miles in a 21-foot lifeboat with Shackleton and four others, saving the other 22 men in their expedition team.

Despite Dooley's palpable passion for his subject, navigating through his play can feel as exhausting as maneuvering around glaciers. There's no director listed in the program, and this show could use one: The text is so densely packed with facts about Antarctica and Crean's various adventures that there's little time spent on his character, and American audiences—to whom Crean isn't a national hero—may struggle to sustain interest. Still, Dooley's impassioned chronicle of heroic determination is so satisfying, most theatergoers should be up for the journey.Diane Snyder

Irish Repertory Theatre (see Off Broadway). Written and performed by Aidan Dooley. 2hrs. One intermission.