Sunday, August 5, 2007

Tom Crean - August 4, 2007

Stories of exploration and outdoorsy adventure have never had much draw for me. Yet I went to see Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer because it had two things going for it that drew me in: 1) I am very partial to solo shows, 2) The Irish Repertory Theatre's track record of good, solid material. I was not disappointed.

Aidan Dooley wrote and performs this charming, exciting, informative, and very funny piece with all the warmth and intimacy that is the legacy of Irish story-tellers.

Tom Crean (1877-1938) made three ill-fated trips to the Antarctic and yet is unknown. Scott, "only two trips" is world-famous. The reason is simple according to Crean - Scott kept a diary. "Diary - you're remembered; no diary - pffft". But happily Tom Crean is mentioned enough in the diaries of Scott and Shackleton (Crean served on Discovery and Terra Nova with Scott and on Endurance with Shackleton) and other source material that Dooley was able to weave together the character of the man and bring him to life on stage.

And Dooley does, truly, bring him to life. He is at once modern and natural without losing the flavor of the boy who, at 15, joined the Royal Navy to run away from his small town to see the world at the turn of the 20th century. (Apparently there was an issue with his father, a cow and a field of 'spuds' - I'll divulge no more). He is human, one of us - yet something apart because he did what so few of us do: endured unbearable hardship to follow his dream. He survived the savage cold and desolation of the Antarctic, in large part by following his mother's advice to "just get on with it" and by maintaining an indomitable sense of humor. I feel privileged to have met Crean through Dooley and have to admit that I'm intrigued enough now to go read Scott and Shackleton - and I have a feeling Crean will be there with me, reading over my shoulder and chuckling.

Not one to automatically jump to my feet, I have to truly be moved, I happily popped up along with the rest of the audience to give this wonderful performer a well-deserved standing ovation.

NOTE: I would like to take a moment to praise the house staff, from box office to ushers, at the Irish Rep for their wonderfully sunny attitudes, helpfulness and utter lack of pretension. I have run into surliness and boredom at some other theaters and feel compelled to comment on what a difference in the entire evening's experience a pleasant house staff can make. Thank you!

Tom Crean
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
(between 6th & 7th Avenues)
Tickets: 212-727-2737
Closes: September 9th
Running time: a touch under 2 hours (includes 15 min intermission)

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