Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Port City Playhouse Terra Nova

By • Apr 20th, 2007 • Category: Reviews

Listen to our review of Port City Playhouse’s Terra Nova [MP3 8:30 2.4MB].

Laura: Friday evening we saw the opening night performance of Port City Playhouse‘s Terra Nova in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mike: Terra Nova is a play written by Ted Tally. It recounts the doomed attempt of the British expedition led by Captain Robert Scott to out race a team led by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen to the South Pole. Drawing much of his materials from Scott’s journals, playwright Ted Tally has constructed a work that moves between the sufferings of Scott and his men in Antarctica and the tender scenes of Scott and his wife back home in England. The character of Amundsen appears as the commentator on the tragedy. He serves as a contrast between the practical man who succeeds in attaining his goals and and the failed idealist.

Laura: This was a serious show. Going into it you knew that the gentlemen did not survive their trek in Antarctica. It was kind of a sad show, but it was very well performed.

Mike: This show really didn’t pull me into it too much. I knew the expedition was doomed. So seeing the scenes back in England did make that more poignant, but it really didn’t connect me to the characters too much. The competitive aspect of us vs. them and the race to the South Pole, that I could connect with. The characters themselves were kind of flat. I really didn’t get into them too much.

One thing I thought of part way through the show when they were talking through the challenges they were facing in Antarctica. I was reminded of the book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors. It’s the story of a South American Rugby team whose plane crashes in the Andes mountains and what they have to do to survive in the mountains for almost three months. It was a very similar situation to what they were going through down in Antarctica in this race to The South Pole. People will do what they have to do to survive. It seemed like Captain Scott and his men were not willing to do whatever it took to survive. Maybe that was one reason they didn’t make it.

Laura: The Norwegian gentleman who was also trying to get to the South Pole first was a man named Amundsen. He was played by Jon Whittle. He did a good job. He was kind of the antagonist through Capt. Scott. He was always teasing him, poking fun, telling him he didn’t make it, that he might as well give up, kindof the evil person. I didn’t like his character, but I thought he played it very well.

Mike: Captain Robert Scott was played by Blakeman Brophy. He did a good job portraying a concerned captain for his men. He was a father figure to all of them. He felt very responsible to whatever happened to all of them. As the men started getting sick and weaker, he felt personally responsible for what had happened to them. The failure that he felt, Brophy did a good job of making that come out to the audience.

I didn’t like how the show was written in that they had to keep jumping back and forth between the South pole expedition and the memories going back to England. That was a little jarring at times. I really couldn’t get a good sense of hopelessness because you kept getting these feelings of hope. That didn’t quite work, there wasn’t much they could do with that since that’s how the show was written.

Laura: The first explorer to die was poor Evans, played by Gary Cramer. He did a very good job. You could see the pain, yet the loyalty on his face. He didn’t want to give up. He wanted to keep going even when the expedition realized they were not the first ones to reach The South Pole. You could see the determination on his face and and ultimately the sorrow when he realized that he had reached the end.

Mike: The other explorers were Wilson, played by Ken Clayton, Oates played by Carl Brandt Long, and Bowers played by Scott Olson. The entire group of explorers had strong sense of community and camaraderie. They had all been together for several other expeditions together. I did feel like they picked on Evans a bit much. He was kind of a weakling in their eyes. But they still cared for him. I did like how they all worked together. Clayton did a good job as the doctor. He was concerned in how his ethics were not going to be affected even though it was probably hopeless for all of them. I liked that portrayal. I also liked Carl Brandt Long when he went crazy and had to just get away and sacrifice himself.

Laura: The set for Terra Nova was different. The Set Designer was John Downing. Because it took place in Antarctica where there is lots of show, everything was kind of shrouded in white. When Capt. Scott would have a flash back, then you would bring on the tents and supplies of the explorers. Later on in another flashback towards the end of his life you brought on a table and chairs that the men stood around.

Mike: Do you think the set was enough to make you think of Antarctica? Was it bleak enough? Was it white enough?

Laura: For me, yes, I could see that. I like how everything was draped in white, and then their supplies and things, although they should have been snow covered as well. To me the contrast was ok. It wasn’t jarring to me. Was it bothersome to you?

Mike: I don’t think the entire environment quite reminded me enough of the South
Pole. One thing they did at times was to have a sound effect of whistling wind. The sound was designed by Alan Wray. The blowing wind was what you pictured of a snow storm or an ice storm. However, it would cut out. There were a few times where you could hear it cut over on itself. There would be a couple seconds of silence and then it would start up again. I wish that the blowing wind sound would be more constant.

Laura: Another interesting touch with Terra Nova was when the actors did not have lines, they stayed on stage. At first it was kind of a little disconcerting because I kept looking over to see if they were in character when they were sitting off to the side. After a while I got used to it and ignored them and and focused on the action that was happening on the center of the stage. I didn’t find it all that distracting. What did you think about that effect?

Mike: I found it a little distracting. Capt. Scott’s wife, Kathleen, played by Erin Gallalee, was sitting on the side for a good portion of the show and was just waiting to do her next scene. The only thing I could think was that was showing us the people back home who were waiting. I think it was distracting. I think that the characters who were not in that scene should have been off stage. I don’t know if that’s how the show was written. If that’s how the show was written then that’s how they had to do it. I didn’t like that really.

Laura: Terra Nova is playing through April the 28th. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Tuesday the 24th, Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th at the Lee Center for the Perfoming Arts in Alexandria Virginia. This is not a happy show, but it is a show the will make you think about life and how blessed you are.

Mike: One of the themes that came out at me was what are you dreaming of? What are you reaching for? Robert Scott did make you think about that and also why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you making these decisions? It is a show that you can appreciate and really think about. There are a lot of issues that get raised and don’t get resolved. I’d like to hear your thoughts of this show. This isn’t a real disturbing show, but it is a dark show and a little depressing. I’d like to get your thought on this if you go see this. Simply come back to the and leave a comment or you can send us an email.

Laura: And now, on with the show.


  • Capt. Scott: Blakeman Brophy
  • Wilson: Ken Clayton
  • Evans: Gary Cramer
  • Kathleen: Erin Gallalee
  • Oates: Carl Brandt Long
  • Bowers: Scott Olson
  • Amundsen: Jon Whittle


  • Producer: Sharon Dove
  • Assistant Producer: Robert S. Kraus
  • Director: Don Petersen
  • Stage Manager: Robert S. Kraus
  • Set Design: John Downing
  • Set Construction: Robert Cork
  • Set Painting: Robert Cork
  • Set Dressing: Donna Reynolds
  • Properties: Judy Kee
  • Assisted By: Jayn Rite
  • Lighting Design: Ken & Patti Crowley
  • Master Electrician: Dick Schwab
  • Sound Design: Alan Wray
  • Assisted by: Eleni Aldridge
  • Costume Design: Paul Andrew Morton
  • Makeup Design: Bette Williams
  • Hair/Wig Design: Bette Williams
  • British Accent Coach: Carol Strachan
  • Norwegian Accent Coach: Bruce Follmer
  • Graphic Design: Eleni Aldridge
  • Playbill: Jennifer Lyman
  • Photographer: Douglas Olmsted
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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

One Response »

  1. The combination of the set and lighting were very effective for Terra Nova. The non linear and parallel time and place were very handled very effectively. In one particularly beautiful scene, Scott is simultaneously invited to come inside a small tent in the middle of an infinite, harsh, frozen plane and into the warm cozy bed with his beautiful and loving wife. There is a powerful, calm, silent moment when Scott chooses his fate.

    Scott and his team undertook this impossible mission for country, and glory, and immortality. They risked everything… and lost. It is a harsh reality of life that no matter how hard you try that sometimes things don’t work out the way you want. Scott’s complete and absolute loss is palpable… but in his final reflections… he does not regret taking on the challenge and living life to the fullest.

    The story is indeed sad. Doubtless, there were contemporary explorers who deemed the challenges too great and the stakes too high. They gave up without trying. Perhaps their lives are the greatest tragedy… they are certainly a less compelling story.

    (Antarctica is a desert with an annual precipitation less than that of the Sahara.)