Success is a Bitch: TERRA NOVA

Photo by Jake Scaltreto. The Bros.

Photo by Jake Scaltreto.

Presented by Flat Earth Theatre
by Ted Tally
Directed by Jake Scaltreto

Feb. 20-28, 2015
Arsenal Center for the Arts
Watertown, MA
Flat Earth on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Watertown, MA) On January 17, 1912 Captain Robert Falcon Scott led the British Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole. Named the Terra Nova Expedition, Scott and his companions raced to the Pole on foot (plus ponies), dragging a one thousand pound sled, in furs and fleeces, hoping to beat Norwegian Roald Amundsen while securing it for the British Empire. While accomplishing the journey, Scott got there second and did not secure it for the King. Hampered by steep misfortunes and terrible weather, Scott and his crew froze to death 11 miles from their pickup point. Their records and scientific specimens were later found by a search party ensuring that their efforts were not in vain. Scott and his crew are further survived by the dramatic interpretation of the events, Terra Nova presented by Flat Earth Theatre.

The script by Ted Tally approaches the Expedition and its preparation from the perspective of Scott (Chris Chiampa). In scenes that alternate between his softer life in England and the drudge through the Antarctic, we learn about Scott the Englishman, and Scott the Man. He is defined by his relationships with his crew (Matt Arnold, James Hayward, Kevin Kordis, Robin Gabrielli), his lovely wife Kathleen (Kamela Dolinova), and his rival, Amundsen (Samuel Frank). Tally forces us to consider the cognitive fluency of a dying man’s last thoughts while juxtaposing polite manners against the will to live. Terra Nova isn’t an easy show to watch but it is interesting.

The work by the cast and direct Scaltreto is commendable. They do an excellent job with a difficult script and a hopeless plot. The actors in Scott’s crew played the English equivalent of Bros with aplomb. Dolinova was a warm, gentle comparison that delivered necessary levity and objectivity.

Standout performances were delivered by Frank and Chiampa. Frank showed considerable skill and range while depicting multiple characters with ranging accents and goals. Without skipping a beat or changing a costume, he indicated to the audience clearly and effectively these alternate personalities.

Chiampa lead the cast and the performance with majesty and prowess. It was as if he were pulling the production by a silver leash that the audience was at the end of. Despite the script’s indications that Scott was suffering hallucinations and a severe decline in physical health, Chiampa made the audience to believe that there was still hope for the crew. He was chummy and gentlemanly in a role that could have been uncouth.

Fault could be found in two areas of the production. The first would be in the fight sequences. My apologies to to movement & violence coach Allison Olivia Choat, but the stage combat did not work. The choreography was, in theory, acceptable but the delivery by the cast was not.

The second is much more subtle but no less significant. Terra Nova moved in moments of brilliance cut that were short by brief but awkward interruptions in the production’s moving tension when the cast members lost focus. Some cast members were better than others at finding the balance between getting appropriately swept up by the drama while staying present. To specify, there is no better experience as an actor than allowing the many hours of hard work to take over a performance. There’s a freedom that is almost indescribable: you don’t have to scrounge for words, blocking, or character analysis. You can finally make art.  Most of the actors of Terra Nova were there. Some were not. It was the switchover that took away from the performance. The positive take from this is that growing actors watching the performance, if they noticed these transitions, could learn from it. I reiterate, these moments were very subtle but they still mark the difference between a good production and a great one.

Watching Terra Nova (not to be confused by the 2011 Fox show by the same name) felt a lot like watching a Shakespearean zombie movie. One of the characters contracts gangrene and soon, one after the other, all of the characters die. Except in this case, everyone dies tragically and without apology. Like a zombie movie, there is some well-executed gore (thanks to the work of Coriana Hunt Swartz and Stewart Holmes) and a whole lot of preventable death. If only our cast of brave characters had thought with their delicious brains and not their dicks, they all would have lived.

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