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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

Optimism is true moral courage”— Sir Ernest Shackleton

(Photo credit: Kevin Sprague)
What do four Hartford insurance agents facing economic meltdown in the face of 21st century corporate American greed have in common with the heroic British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton lost in the Antarctic in the early 20th century?Everything, according to Split Knuckle Theatre’s Endurance, a splendidly physical and imaginative comedy-drama at Shakespeare and Co.’s newly renamed Tina Packer Theatre.

The members of the phenomenal quartet —Jason Bohon, Andrew Grusetskie, Michael F. Toomey and Greg Webster along with writer Nick Ryan— have created this poignantly and hilarious, sometimes bordering on zany, examination of what it means to overcome life’s obstacles no matter the time period. According to Split Knuckle’s own mission statement, they make “dynamic, physical visually striking theatre concerned with the timeless questions of human experience.”That they do by seamlessly weaving the Antarctic saga of Shackleton and his crew on their ship called “Endurance” and their gripping survival struggle with that of four loutish demoralized American boy/men who are trapped in the monotony of faceless corporate America.

The insurance men's meaningless jobs and lack of control over their own lives are depicted in uproarious scenes of paper-pushing routines which are a hint of what they can expect the rest of their lives will encompass. Nevertheless, they are panicked when confronted by the loss of this debilitating mindlessness and, of course, salaries.

The dynamic retelling of Shackleton’s saga commands our imagination and the audience’s consideration of each group’s survival tactics. Just as the ice closes in on the “Endurance” crew and crushes the ship, the facless coporations have frozen the lives and dreams of their employees.

Michael F. Toomey’s Spivey, an unlikely modern hero, is transformed in the face of career annihilation. His comic haplessness is juxtaposed beautifully by Greg Webster’s formidable and eternally optimistic Shackleton.

The scenery, if one can call it that, consists of three trash cans, a few tables and chairs and a file cabinet that moves from ship to office in the blink of an eye dramatically lit by Dan Rousseau. Split Knuckle states in the program, ". . .we are currently embroiled in two wars, a mounting national debt, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, record unemployment and a deadlocked congress. The question foremost in our mind as a company: how will history judge our response to adversity?”

Though the play’s humor, music and hopeful ending belies its more serious overtones, the audience is sent home after an enchanting evening in the theatre tricked by Split Knuckle into strong political and moral soul-searching. Endurance is in Lenox for a limitied time only. See it while you can!!

Postscript: Since my first week of summer 2012 in the Berkshires was especially busy, I was happy that Gloria Miller would cover Endurance as she has ably covered other shows for Curtainup in the past. When we met at another show shortly before she filed her trenchant report, her enthusiasm triggered my urge to catch it if I could find a free evening. I'm more than glad I did, as you will be if you follow her advice.

The press information about this play and the clever company that created it reminded me about a play about Shackleton's remarkable survival story seen long ago in an off-Broadway theater (Ice Island>). It was an intriguing play, also staged with minimal scenery, but Split Knuckle's remarkable use of this famous story of survival to explore serious issues with humor and style is in a class all by itself. No wonder, that these smart, talented men are traveling all over the world with their offering.

And so, listen to Gloria. Don't miss this play!! -- Elyse Sommer, editor.
Adapted and Created by Jason Bohon, Andrew Grusetskie, Michael f. Toomey and Greg Webster with writer Nick Ryan
Starring Jason Bohon, Andrew Grusetskie, Michael F. Toomey and Greg Webster
Text: Nick Ryan
Costumes Designer: Lucy Brown
Lighting Designer: Dan Rousseau
Music Director: Ken Clark
Dialect Coach: David Alan Stern
Stage Managers: Carmen A. Torres, Hope Rose Kelly
Dramaturg: Dassia Posner
Running Time: 90 minutes; no intermission
Shakespeare & Co.'s Tina Packer Theatre (formerly Founders Theatre)
From June, 28, 2012 – July 15, 2012 Show Times: Thurs-Fri 7:30pm
Tickets: $15-$65
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at 6/29 press opening
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