Sunday, January 24, 2016

Shackleton: the Untold Story—the Alberta Abbey—NE Portland

Armchair Adventures

This one-man show of a true story is presented by Portland Story Theater, directed by Lynne Duddy and stars Lawrence Howard.  It will be put on at the Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta, on January 30th at 8 pm (jazz at 7 pm).  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandstorytheater.org or call 503-284-2226.  (It was a full house the night I went and is mostly street parking—although there is a very small lot across the street--so plan your time accordingly.)

This is storytelling theater at its best and to bring us this whirlwind true tale of the untamed South Pole is the Word-Master himself, Lawrence Howard.  Storytelling is as old as civilization is, as it harkens back to the age before there was written language, only cave paintings and oral transmission of history.  It is not unlike, as depicted in the film, “The Princess Bride,” the old grandfather, sitting on the bed and telling a bedtime story to his grandson, playing all the characters with great relish.  One difference in this presentation is that it is told in narrative form, using only a giant map to project the journeys of the various parties.

But we, like that young child, are absolutely captivated by the great adventures that are unfolding before our ears, like radio theatre use to do, before our imagination was diluted by the Internet.  And why, pray tell, do many of us subject ourselves to these flights of fancy into the Unknown, from the safety of our comfortable chairs?  Because, as Ray Bradbury, a master storyteller himself, has said, that when we project ourselves in this Void we battle and overcome trials and tribulations, that somehow may defeat us in real life, and come out of the experience feeling better about ourselves.  I’ll buy that.

And one more thing (also, ala Bradbury), when we see a film, we are stuck with that image of the story in our minds.  But when we read or hear a story, our imaginations will fill in the scenes and actions, and what we can conjure up ourselves, is much more powerful than any image a film-maker can portray on the screen.  In that sense, for all intents and purposes, we are living those experiences.

The reason I’m am spending so much time on the process is because I’m not going to give you a recap of the story, as that is not the power in this production.  It is in the relating of the tale that makes the show unique.  And that lies somewhat in the adventure itself (Shackleton & Co.) but mainly in the hands of its creators, Howard (the performer) and Duddy (the director).  But, to be brief, it is about conquering nature, in the guise of the South Pole from around 1915-1917.  The Pole had been reached some years earlier by a Norseman but the Continent of Antarctica had never been crossed.

Shackleton proposed coming down from the Weddell Sea area and then having another group come from below, in the Ross Sea area, and leave supplies for them along the way at specific drop points, so they wouldn’t have to drag all that food and equipment with them on their trek across the land.  There is sadness in this tale, as not all the participants made it out alive, and also tragedy, hope, teamwork and, in the final result, magnificent heroism.  If you thought you knew the particulars of this adventure, el contra, this is truly, as mentioned in the title of the show, the untold story.

Howard weaves this immensely complicated story of two teams of adventurers, painting us a rich tapestry, illustrating with metaphors, factual tidbits and quiet determination, a saga of the human spirit and endurance that pales in comparison to other stories of this ilk!  Much of his power is the fact that he, with his voice, gives us a flavor of the piece and lets us fill in the blanks, so that we become part of the story.  Another performer might have placed his ego front and center and said, look at me.  But Howard is confident in letting the settings, the words and the audience’s imaginings take center stage.  Bravo to both for guiding us on this unique journey!

Being that there is only one more performance, and the fact that they had a full house for this one, might encourage you to get your tickets very soon.  I do recommend this show (there is a CD available for purchase, too).  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.