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Theater Review

Torment of Failure Grips 'Terra Nova'

May 18, 2000|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most great plays are about failure, but failure on an intimate, private scale. Ted Tally's "Terra Nova" is a fine, if not great, play about epic, public failure, ironically encased within the tormented mind of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott as he attempts a round-trip trek to the South Pole in 1911-12.

What may seem an impossible staging assignment on a small stage is turned by co-producers Santa Clarita Repertory Theatre and the Pilgrimage Theatre into a moving meditation on existence and hubris.

Tally's Scott would have been the ideal Alec Guinness character--on one hand, the supremely confident British patriot perked by his ability to command a motley crew of hardy men across unexplored territory; on the other, haunted by failure's specter in the form of his competition, Norway's gruff and fearless explorer Roald Amundsen.

As Scott's celebrated journey decays into a cruel race against fate, with Amundsen having beaten him by a month, Tally constructs a flurry of memories and surreal displacements to dramatize his fracturing mind.

This is remarkable enough on the page, but director Denise Gillman's staging at Santa Clarita Rep's comfortable theater lends it visual and aural grace of a high order. It is calibrated to hit every tragic note, but lightly, so the tragedy slips up on us from behind, much like Scott and his men.

The superb cast--led by David Mersault as Scott, Franc Ross as Amundsen and Kelly Holden as Scott's wife, Kathleen--makes the notes sing with great force.

As Scott's crew, Michael McGroarty, John Jabaley, Jerry Adair and David Krzisnik create potent portraits of would-be titans facing their Waterloo on the ice. Phil Mooers' lights and John David Paul's set of white, billowing curtains create epic illusions with marvelous simplicity.

BE THERE

"Terra Nova," Santa Clarita Repertory Theatre, 24266 San Fernando Road, Santa Clarita. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends June 11. $12.50-$15. (661) 222-7278. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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