In our brave new world of global communications, in which anyone can reach just about anyone else anywhere, any time, it's easy to forget that less than a century ago, large areas of the world were uncharted and unknown. Terra Nova, Ted Tally's dramatization of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott's doomed 1911 effort to lead the first expedition to the South Pole, recalls the bravery and stupidity of one of the last great voyages of discovery. Rude Guerrilla's mounting of Tally's play can best be summed up in two words: "fucking" and "brilliant."
Told in flashback as Scott surrenders only days from safety, Tally's play is an elegantly woven theatrical tapestry. The dedication and devotion Scott shares with his men is one thread; his oddly ambivalent relationship with his wife is another. A third is the competition between Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who was mounting his own expedition to the pole. Tally takes great poetic license with this, conjuring up Amundsen to dispense advice and scorn to Scott in imagined sequences.
Director Sharyn Case's pace is crisp, and her vision is fluid. Passages from Scott's journal flow smoothly into the various dream/fantasy sequences. The bare stages and white walls and floor give the moody impression of both a dream space and an endless ice plain. On the acting plane, Jay Michael Fraley is a magnetic Captain Scott. He is alternately driven, lost, hopeful and confused. David Rousseve blends the facets of Amundsen, Scott's rival/conscience/specter of death/narrator into a gently human figure. Lisa Layne Griffiths' Kathleen is an enigma, only occasionally giving glimpses of her deep love for Scott. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent as the doomed explorers.
In addition, then, to the two words of praise, let us add a third to precede them: "absolutely."
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Terra Nova at the Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. (no performance this Sun.). Through May 7. $10-$12.