How many Wellesley College students does it take to play a bunch of strong, competitive men determined to make it to the South Pole first? Seven, and you’ll be very impressed with their portrayal of all if you go to see “Terra Nova”, running at Wellesley College Theatre’s Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre through Sunday, April 9.
It takes a stubborn man to die trying to make history as the first-ever to explore the South Pole, that very bottom of the world.
It takes a stubborn and stupid man to all but encourage that death by clinging to British ideas of the “rules and standards among civilized men.” This is especially true when those rules and standards preach such nonsense as “no dogs allowed on the South Pole” and keep a stiff upper lip (easy enough when they’re freezing off), and for God’s sake, God save the Queen. Captain Robert Falcon Scott, played with absolute presence and authority by Sarah Lord, is that guy.
Scott has gone down in history as the leader of the fateful 1912 expedition/race to be the first to make it to the South Pole. He and every man in his crew died. To add insult to death, he was beaten there by over a month by practical-minded Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his well-supplied crew and their dogs.
Cut from a different cloth than Scott, Amundsen was the type to ignore other men’s rules and write his own playbook. He knows his team is brave and will gladly suffer for the goal, but he doesn’t see suffering as and end unto itself. And if a few dogs get eaten along the way, well, that’s just good planning. That guy, challenger to Scott’s goals and ideals, is played with resignation and quiet emotion underneath a stern exterior, by Juliette Bellacosa (also as Wanda last fall in The Waiting Room).
When these dueling philosophies of facing down and prevailing over brutal reality on its own terms vs. a tragic-hero way of looking at one’s place in the world butt up against each other, you’ve got “Terra Nova”, my good people, a play that still has the power to shock, even though history has already told us the ending. The production, directed by Nora Hussey, is such a powerful and visceral visit to Antarctica that you won’t warm up for days.