Chicago Theatre Review
Ice Boxed In – A Story of Survival
The White Road – Irish Theatre of Chicago
The story of Ernest Shackleton is a story of leadership and legends. He is best know for his expeditions to Antarctica, particularity with the voyage of The Endurance. This voyage, which was named The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, stranded 56 crewman after pack ice made their passage impossible. The expedition lasted from 1914-17. Mr Shackleton has been lauded in modern times as a great leader; keeping his cool under extreme pressure. There is leadership training that is built around his style and personality to this day. His remarkable journey to put himself in peril to save his crew is a journey for the audience to enjoy. Twice on the same expedition, he had to leave men behind. He promised to return- and did. All the crew survived.
This complex and largely entertaining world premiere, presented by Irish Theatre Chicago at the Den Theatre, is a richly acted and a spectacular use of space and set.
The play (written by Karen Tarjan) begins as Ernest Shackleton (Paul Dunckel) assembles his crew for this particular expedition. Mr. Dunckel’s performance was captivating. He really had to be on point for this piece. He displayed stern pathos through his character. He took charge and I was on board for the journey with his first words. As an actor his pace, voice, and demeanor were excellent.
Shackleton assembles his team with Captain Worsley (Kevin Theis) Mr. Theis is great as the loyal captain. He is easy to watch and helps to draw you into the story. As explorer Frank Wild (Michael McKeough), Mr. McKeough was solid and strong. The expedition is filled out with noteworthy performances by head scientist Mr. McIlroy (Nicholas Bailey), carpenter “Chippy” McNeish (Steve Herson), photographer Mr. Hurley (Neal Starbird), able seaman John Vincent (Stephen Walker), ships John Orde-Lees (Joseph Stearns) and stowaway Blackborrow (Gage Wallace).
The gentlemen on board for this play, were very well suited for their characters. I found no week link among the explorers. All the men had a standout moment in the show. The camaraderie and the passion for this work gloriously shines through. Their performances highlight the highs and lows of this most tedious (to say the least) trip.
There were many great acting moments on stage during the reenactment of this story. From the obnoxious Orde- Lees, to the enduring unrest of McNeish all the actors brought these real men to life for me.
There were a couple very uncomfortable scenes in the show that were delivered well and, at the time, left the audience searingly uncomfortable. Both the dog and frostbite scenes were horrifying to watch, but the were executed with reverence. The commitment for the greater good.
The show was expertly directed by Robert Kauzlaric. He moves the viewers through many scenes, and mostly in snow. He keeps the action moving through innovative staging and clever set pieces. I have no doubt Mr. Kauzlaric put this great cast through its paces. It is a very intense show both physically and mentally. He moves these actors to give relate-able and human performances.
With strong direction and solid acting in place, the third part of this successful production is the design of the show. I love the environmental aspect of the show. The set design (Ira Amyx and Merje Veski) is amazing. It is actually a big character in show with the snow, cold and all. The way the boats move and work, was clever and innovative. The transformation were amazing. The utilization of each set piece to bring us to a different scene in this diorama like theater space was breathtaking. The projections (Smooch Medina) and lights (Julian Pike) sealed the deal for environmental and trans-formative story telling. I also loved the original music and sound design (Victoria Delorio).
This is a very special production you won’t want to miss. I have a feeling it will get a bit shorter and more efficient. (the second act is tad too long) The show is smart and beautiful. This ensemble is very impressive on stage. It is a journey you will not find too often in theater. They pull off a difficult piece; and like Shackleton, I applaud their courage.
Reviewed by Lazlo Collins
Chicago Irish Theatre’s The White Road runs through June 13 at the Den Theatre. It runs Thursday through Sundays with curtain at 7:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
For tickets go to www.irishtheatreofchicago.org
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visitingwww.theatreinchicago.com