Heavy drinking and long stretches of chilly silence permeate Blowout Theatre’s ’s In Antarctica, Where it is Very Warm, currently playing at IRT. Staged inside a splendid wooden installation, Jona Tarlin’s new play attempts to bring friction into the land of the penguins when a new plumber arrives at a research facility in the antarctic after his predecessor committed suicide by walking into the frozen waste.
The station is overflowing with alcohol, and plenty of drama is afoot upon the new plumber Neil’s arrival. Helen, the head scientist, is having an affair with Annabell, a precocious maintenance woman. Vicki, a junior researcher, plugs up the pipes with her morning sickness, pregnant by way of Neil’s now-deceased predecessor. Neil bonds with Vicki and her unborn child, but their relationship unravels as Neil slowly loses his mind. Eventually Neil wanders into the cold, like his predecessor, and eats a penguin whilst hallucinating he’s a polar bear.
Lindsey Austen gives a playful, heartfelt performance as Vicki, a young academic discovering the hazy difference between being respected and being loved. Anthony Perullo delivers a gristly Tom; a gnarled, alcoholic tundra veteran with a treasure trove of stories he’d rather forget. Director Kyle Metzger is as ambitious as they come. The scenic design, staging, and scene-to-scene transformation boldly commands the attention. Unfortunately, the scenes of intimacy struggle. In one instance, Vicki attempts to provide the obsessive Neil with counseling after his jaunt onto the tundra. What should be a deeply emotional ordeal is performed in odd Goethe-esque lockstep, robbing the scene of humanity.
The first half of the play is light and clever, setting up the tensions of the research station while hinting at romantic kindling between Vicki and Neil. The show stumbles in the second act, as the tendrils of storyline never quite sync up to one another. Helen and Annabell’s relationship is never really tested, Vicki’s baby doesn’t really present a problem, and the central question of: “Why exactly did Neil and his predecessor fly off the handle?” isn’t really addressed. Was it the drinking? Vicki? The environment? Perhaps Tarlin means to leave us scratching our heads, but in the end it’s more likely he hasn’t decided himself. Tarlin is clearly a witty and competent dramatist, but his new play is geared more towards stagecraft than story.
That said, the lighting design is magnificent and transportive. Designer Aaron Ethan Green masterfully recreates aurora borealis, antarctic dawn and dusk, as well as frigid tundra night. He damn-near changes the theatre’s temperature by sheer power of suggestion.
In Antarctica, Where it is Very Warm has it’s kinks and merits. The play never sizzles, but then, it is supposed to be freezing out there. It thaws, slowly, into a tale of memory, longing, and the looming threat of an unforgiving environment. When all is said and done, Antarctica delivers on it’s promise to take you, albeit briefly, into a desolate world of eternal winter.