Way down under, trapped on ice

Fertile Ground: Lawrence Howard spins a tale of bravery, isolation, and endurance in Antarctica in "Shackleton, the Untold Story"

Lawrence Howard, Portland’s best-known armchair adventurer and one of the city’s most engaging raconteurs, returned to the stage at Alberta Abbey on Saturday night with another tale of gritty endurance and testing of mettle at the ends of the world. Shackleton, the Untold Story unfolds the adventure of the other, less glamorous, and in certain ways more calamitous arm of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, his failed but valiant attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent, a brutal trek of 1,800 miles through the most forbidding climate on Earth. (The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had made it to the South Pole and back three years before, but not across the entire continent.)

Lawrence Howard, onstage with a map of Antarctica. Photo: Mike Bodine

Lawrence Howard, onstage with a map of Antarctica. Photo: Mike Bodine

The Untold Story, a fresh piece from Portland Story Theater that is part of the Fertile Ground festival of new works, expands on a tale Howard first told in 2012, Shackleton’s Antarctic Nightmare: The True Story of the 1914 Voyage of the Endurance. This time around, Howard concentrates on the disaster that beset the expedition’s support crew, whose task was to approach the continent from Hobart, Tasmania, sail into the relatively well-known Ross Sea, and establish a series of supply camps from the ice floes to the Beardsmore Glacier that the main expedition could use for rest and sustenance on its way across the continent after reaching the South Pole. But, while Shackleton’s Endurance got caught in the ice floes during foul weather and set adrift with the crew aboard during its approach from the South American side, the 10 members of the support crew suffered a far more perilous disaster: their ship, the Aurora, broke loose in a gale and drifted back across the ocean, finally landing, unmanned, on the southern shore of New Zealand, thus alerting the public for the first time that the largely inexperienced crew was marooned on the ice.

It was not until January 1917 that the Aurora, having been repaired and refitted, returned to rescue the survivors. In between lay a tale of disaster, extreme fortitude, mistakes, bad decisions, near-misses, and the stresses of life at the extreme. Dogs, those essential workers and companions, perished. Terrifying storms set in. Isolation dampened men’s souls. Rash decisions and brave actions became grueling commonplaces. Scurvy ravaged the crew, bending and weakening men already tested to the physical limit. Death arrived, sometimes inevitably, sometimes foolishly.

As a teller, Howard takes his time, without letting things drag. This is about a two and a half hour journey, including intermission, which is of course a snap of the finger compared to the excruciatingly frozen ticking of the Antarctic clock for these men, who had no distractions from the elements and the moment-to-moment need to survive. But Howard is an excellent guide, an amiable and quietly compelling companion, and it’s worth the time. He’s a bit of a storytelling engineer, or mechanic: he builds his tale on a careful construction of details that suggest the intense tedium of these men’s lives on the edge, and yet keep us constantly enthralled by the large picture of human challenge and adventure. At key points he cuts back to the story of the main Shackleton expedition, so that we know more about what was happening than anyone in either party knew at the time. In the end, he does what storytelling does best: he sits us down beside a virtual fire and tells a tale of adventurous deeds. We get to shudder, and marvel, and then go safely home.


Shackleton, the Untold Story repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday, January 30, at Alberta Abbey as part of the Fertile Ground festival. It’s also scheduled to play at The Pavilion in Cascade Locks on March 26, and at the Cascades Theater in Bend on April 16.




‘The Moth’: close to the flame

The hit storytelling platform flutters onto the stage at the Schnitz for an evening, and five "regular folks" tell their tales


Portland is one of the most well-read cities in the United States. Our beloved county library has one of the nation’s highest circulation rates, and Powell’s, by many measures, is the  largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. It’s far from unbelievable that many Portlanders are not just readers, but also writers and storytellers in their own right.

The Moth is a New York-based multi-platform for true-life storytellers, and the meeting between it and like-minded Portland has been a mutual triumph. The Moth, much like Portland, is always finding new ways to catch stories and share them: It has a Peabody Award-winning podcast, a book, and even a hotline to call in your story. The Moth and Portland have a similar passion for hearing a good tale and creating an ingenious way to tell it.

The Moth fluttered into Portland’s Schnitzer Hall on Monday night, and the Schnitz, with all its Art Deco glory, added to the excitement. It’s an exciting venue for a show like this: just passing by the old Broadway lightbulbs on a dark night can fill a passer-by with joy. Monday’s house was sold out, and filled to the rafters with an audience that seemed to contain most every kind of literary appreciation: conservative-suited Ernest Hemingway types, flamboyant eccentrics with colorful vintage slacks and sarcastic T-shirts, young Gloria-Steinems-in-training with long wistful hair and leather jackets. People in the audience had their manners, but were highly irreverent. They stood in their seats, and talked loudly. It was obvious that The Moth wasn’t so much an event to be heard on stage, but a gathering of 2,700 peers come to celebrate five authors and their stories. It was, organizers said, the largest attendance across the world in Moth history.


“Everything Everything Everything”: 2 friends end an era.

Action/Adventure hosts a new touring Seattle show that already feels nostalgic.

Wesley K. Andrews and Ilvs* Strauss are real-life besties; they have been since high school. They know each other better than we’ll ever know either of them, which only becomes more obvious as they try to tell the rest of us their story. “Everything Everything Everything,” at Action/Adventure from Oct. 24 to Nov. 2, is billed as “a narrative performance with acoustic music,” but proves mostly the former, a tandem monologue that the pair performs seated next to their guitar and glockenspiel. Above their heads, a slide show serves Instagram-y images of landscapes and an assortment of seemingly-unrelated old group photos of strangers.

YES, Ilvs and Wes finish each other’s sentences. YES, they exchange conspiratorial glances and indulge in (scripted) tangents of petty-but-affectionate argument. And NO, they don’t seem to care what we think. They live in their mutually affirming feedback loop, thank you, and we’re just visiting.

Ilvis Strauss and Wesley K. Anderson share their recent past...and put a decade's clichés reluctantly to rest.

Ilvs Strauss and Wesley K. Anderson share their recent past…and put a decade’s clichés reluctantly to rest.

Ilvs is a lesbian and Wes is a straight man, and their story spans the time period (circa 2005) when they shared a Capitol Hill, Seattle apartment. They called their home “the dugout” (“…because some ladies ’bout ta get dug OUT!” they remark, making a point to be ironically and not sincerely crude.) Enter Lauren McNally, a girl they BOTH kissed in high school. She’s visiting the city on a mysterious business trip and acts surprisingly eager to pal around with the pair. Her presence, of course, sparks a competition between the friends, who each vow they’ll do “everything, everything, everything” to win her. This culminates in a misguided and poorly-planned pilgrimage to a Dave Matthews concert in the Gorge. As the two unreliable narrators take turns exalting her, our detached suspicion of Lauren grows. But a different realization dawns on the friends: they don’t need her as much as they need each other.

On the whole, the story is engaging and heart-felt, full of surprises, enlivened by details, and rhapsodized with romantic swells and swoons.

Told to you as if by your own friends, it’s a yarn you’ll probably enjoy, and you’re not likely to forget. But…


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