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November 22, 2012

Play traces fatal South Pole expedition

SARANAC LAKE — Pendragon Theatre presents “Terra Nova” during the centennial of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition.

Playwright Ted Tally’s Obie Award-winning play was written while he attended Yale Drama School in 1977.

“It’s just a very, very interesting play that chronicles a major historical event,” said Bob Pettee, director.

“It raises lots of issues about a sense of nationalism and national pride, life-and-death decisions within the midst of really extreme circumstances.”

Scott (1868-1912), a British naval officer, first attempted to reach the South Pole in 1901. He and his team fell 450 miles short of their goal. Six years later, Ernest Shackleton, a member of Scott’s first expedition, came within 97 miles of the geographic pole. 

In 1908, a Shackleton-splinter group, traveling on foot without dogs or pack animals, raised the Union Jack over the South Magnetic Pole.

On June 10, 1910, Scott sailed on the “Terra Nova” to Antarctica. On Jan. 17, 1912, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates, Edgar Evans and Scott reached the South Pole only to find the Norwegian flag planted by Roald Amundsen’s five-man expedition.

Crestfallen, Scott and his team embark on their return. An injured Evans dies along the way. Oates commits suicide by blizzard.

Scott, Wilson and Bowers perish in a nine-day blizzard within 11 miles of One Ton Depot, their resupply camp.

“The whole thing is about the struggle,” Pettee said. “They did find Scott’s journal after his party didn’t make it back. Lots of words in the play are taken from his journal. It’s a voice-from-the-grave type of experience about his heroic attempt. Some people describe him as stupid and a bad planner. The play deals with what he thought about it. In his journal, he is essentially writing a letter to his wife, the public and all kinds of people of what this cold adventure was like. It’s astonishing, actually, for a playwright to fill in the gaps.”

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