I’ve never wanted to go to Antarctica. Too dark. Too cold. No good restaurants.
But scientists love it. In the world premiere of E.M. Lewis’s Magellanica, six of them are falling all over themselves to spend eight and a half months there with no chance of getting out. It is 1986. American Dr. Morgan Halstead (Sara Hennessey) and Russian Dr. Vladimir “Vadik” Chapayev (Michael Mendelson) want to study what may be a hole in the ozone layer. Dr. May Zhou (Barbie Wu) will learn more about the Aurora Australis. Norwegian Dr. Lars Brotten (Eric Pargac) is fascinated by penguins, and he cooks. Dr. Todor Kozlek, a Bulgarian cartographer, hopes to come home with accurate maps of the continent. British Dr. William Huffington (Joshua J. Weinstein) is such a pain in the rear that I completely forget what he is studying.
Two other Americans–the boss, Captain Adam Burrell (Vin Shambry) and jack-of-all-trades Freddie de la Rosa (John San Nicolas)–are there to keep the rest of them alive. This proves to be a tall order.
On stage now at Artists Repertory Theatre, this is a groundbreaking play, an epic, and E.M. Lewis’s magnum opus to date. It runs five and a half hours, with four intermissions. Those who commit to see it are also signing up for multiple bathroom breaks and a meal. And yet, how those hours fly! Magellanica is a fine story on so many levels.
Isolating disparate characters away from their normal milieus is a fine and often used literary device. It doesn’t get more remote than the South Pole, and Lewis’s cast of characters could not be more disparate. And yet, at some level they all must get along. Their lives depend on it. In this new world the characters inhabit, we see them in stark relief. They reveal themselves to each other and the audience. They grow into their skins. Each is fascinating in his or her own way: given to foibles, romance, meanness, petty spats, and Major Disagreements. Flawed but commendable, courageous in the “speaking darkness”.
More remarkable is the big picture, the struggle against Nature and for Nature, the quest for learning, and the burning need to do something for the Earth before it is too late.
Artists Repertory Artistic Director Damaso Rodriguez directs this stellar cast. As with a seasoned jazz combo, each member has a moment to solo and to shine. For me, Allen Nause delivered a particularly fine performance as Todor. Scenic design (Stephanie Kerley Schwartz) was simple and adaptable, as befits a bunker at the South Pole surrounded by mountains of ice. Mary McDonald-Lewis coached actors through a world of dialects. The atmosphere of the production, however, belongs to sound designer/composer Rodolfo Ortega, projection designer Megan Wilkerson, and lighting designer Carl Faber–quite simply the rock stars of the crew!
Magellanica runs through February 18 at Artists Repertory Theatre. It is entertainment. It is an experience. It is a play you don’t want to miss!
(Photo: L-R, John San Nicolas, Allen Nause, Vin Shambry, Joshua J. Weinstein, Barbie Wu, Sara Hennessey, Michael Mendelson, Eric Pargac. Photo by Russell Young.)