The Castleton theater department delivered an emotional performance of “Terra Nova” last Friday night. Unlike a conventional plot where there would be one central conflict, the entire show focuses on the struggles of surviving in such harsh circumstances physically and with such pressures mentally and emotionally to be the first to reach the South Pole.
The play, directed by student Eric Monzel, was performed in three different worlds: Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s mind, his memory of home, and the story of the expedition to the South Pole. These worlds intermingle as scenes transition from one to another and the audience goes from inside Scott’s mind to the real world. At times, the action was taking place in more than one of these worlds simultaneously and Scott’s words responded to a character in his mind as well as a character in the main story.
In Scott’s mind, the Norwegian man who made it to the South Pole first plays the role of the “devil on your shoulder.” Norwegian Roald Amundsen, played by Michael Tuffy, is the voice of pessimism and appears at times when the captain begins to doubt himself and doubt the mission. Whenever he appears, a quiet heartbeat is heard throughout the room. It makes the audience feel as if they are inside the Captain’s mind and can hear the blood beating through his ears. At one point Scott is going crazy and the crew’s doctor, played by Cameron Scully, has to stop him from attacking this imaginary voice.
The opening set the stage for the intensity that was to come. A slideshow of images is shown with black and white photos of a ship and an ocean. There are sounds of a thrashing sea and as the slideshow progresses, the volume increases, which puts the audience on edge. The slideshow is used again to show the real photo of the crew that made it to the South Pole. This was a very creative way of setting the mood and telling the story.
The small, seven-person cast did a phenomenal job of getting into character and making the audience believe what was happening. By the end of the story, all five crew members die. An especially impactful scene that brought many to tears occurred when Edgar “Taffy” Evans, a badly frostbitten crew member played by Dalton-Jesse Cummins, goes crazy and dies a graphic death. Whether this was intentional or not, he is the only crew member without a beard, which makes him seem like the youngest. The idea of the youngest and most innocent one dying first is what makes this scene even more difficult to watch.
Because this was performed in the black box theater, there was seating on two sides of the performance space. The only downside of this was how the blocking favored the main seating area and in many cases those who sat on the side got a view of the actors’ backs.