HEROISM, LIKE TOO many other once-meaningful words, has the inescapable taint today of the false or old-fashioned. When people of dubious achievement, from multi-million-dollar-contract sports stars to Oliver North, are labeled "heroes," the word has clearly fallen from the ideal to the merely marketable.
Taproot Theater, ends April 24
But it was not always thus. In Ted Tally's lyrical and thoughtful play Terra Nova, the concept of heroism is closely analyzed through the personality of Robert Falcon Scott, one of the last and most enigmatic heroes of the great Age of Exploration. Unlike his noteworthy contemporaries, Scott is remembered not for his success in reaching one of the last secret places on Earth, but his failure to reach it. In 1910, Captain Scott led an expedition to the South Pole that resulted in disaster and death for all concerned. Nonetheless, his doomed trek to the Antarctic curiously has become much more celebrated than the successful expedition of his archrival, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen.
In Terra Nova, Tally presents us with the expedition through the occasionally drifting consciousness of Scott, shifting from the hell of the coldest place on Earth to memories of his wife and hallucinations in which his colleague Amundsen taunts and goads him on. The play's great strength is that it presents an intelligent critique of the motives of Scott and his team members without ever wholly dismissing the greater goals that led them onward. Jeff Berryman, looking remarkably like the photos of the polar explorer, gives a bravura performance that captures both the courage and the tremendous naivet頯f a man who was a glorious amateur, driven by base motives of fame, but somehow transmuting them into something nobler through the force of his personality.
The entire ensemble, which includes Kevin Brady, Mark Lund, Troy Burke, and Robert Quinlan, is one of the strongest ever featured in a Taproot show, and Will Ransom as Amundsen is the ideal combination of maddening rival and comforting conscience. The material is tougher and less sentimental than many of the shows the company has tackled in the past, but the result—thanks to the script, the company, and Scott Nolte's surehanded direction—is much more rewarding. In the quality of its acting, in its attention to detail (through the meticulous costumes and props of Nanette Acosta and Mark Lund), and above all in its clear commitment to a challenging text, this show makes it clear that when at its best, Taproot can produce some of the finest theater in Seattle.