note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
The award-winning TOM CREAN, ANTARCTIC EXPLORER, written and performed by Aidan Dooley, is a soaring paean to the Irish explorer who made three (in)famous expeditions to Antarctica in the early twentieth century --- two with Captain Robert Scott; one, with Sir Ernest Shackleton. Twice Mr. Crean made astonishing rescues: one, covering thirty-five miles alone on foot; the other, crossing eight hundred miles of ocean in a lifeboat and scaling the uncharted glaciers of South Georgia (miraculously, rescuers and rescued all came through, each time). Mr. Crean was awarded the Albert Medal for bravery and retired to Ireland to run a public house but through class prejudice and his not keeping a travel diary he has long been overshadowed by the Messrs. Scott and Shackleton; with Mr. Dooley’s one-man show and an acclaimed biography by Michael Smith, Mr. Crean is now given his due.
Mr. Dooley’s play works beautifully as performance piece and as family entertainment --- Mr. Dooley begins and remains in character with his impersonations filtered through Mr. Crean’s eyes, alone (including some hilarious seconds as a leopard seal), steering away from a mere protean turn, and his narrative packs plenty of drama, lusty comedy and verbal scene-painting so that it springs to life on a bare stage with minimal props. Photographs of Mr. Crean reveal a leathery stoic with pipe planted firmly in mouth; Mr. Dooley, a hearty, bubbling man, plays him with plenty of twinkle and bounce --- my only quibble comes when Mr. Dooley’s Antarctic costume occasionally clashes with his presentational style: is Mr. Crean acting out his tale on the very ice or re-enacting it with his clothes, sled and gear as artifacts? But enough --- “astonish me,” John Lahr once wrote and Mr. Dooley does as writer and as actor, evoking the terror and majesty of a vast frozen world where Man is but an ant creeping to triumph on willpower, alone. Several times I caught myself listening, open-mouthed, like a child, especially in Act Two, where I wondered how the Messrs. Dooley and Crean could ever top themselves after Act One’s tour de force but they do and have earned their thunderous applause at curtain. Welcome to the magic of Theatre.