Susan Granger’s review of “Endurance” (Stage II, Long Wharf Theater: June, 2014)

By Susan Granger

What does contemporary downsizing in a fictional Hartford, Connecticut, insurance company have in common with the challenges facing heroic British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton whose ship was trapped in Antarctica for two years in the early 20th century? That’s the premise of Nick Ryan’s new play at Stage II of the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven.

A lot - at least acccording to Walter Spivey (Christopher Hirsh). When haplessly insecure Spivey is promoted to department manager, while his colleagues are being fired, he learns inspiring lessons about leadership from reading Shackleton’s memoir:┬áLike getting to know his discouraged staff better by asking unusual questions that reveal their hobbies and interests and creating genuine teamwork by allowing them to invent new solutions to the old problem of backlogged claims. Above all, as Shackleton wrote, “Optimism is true moral courage.”

So when you contrast Antarctica’s icy landscape with the bleak coldness of corporate-profit mentality, the poignant travails of sailors and suits are actually not that much different in today’s business world.

What’s most exciting is how they interweave these diverse elements. According to press notes: “Split Knuckle Theatre creates dynamic, physical, visually striking theater from simple materials. Through imagination, text and movement, we create vast landscapes, vivid characters, and epic stories.”

Working collaboratively, the four energetic, acrobatic actors (Christopher Hirsh, Andrew Grusetskie, Jason Bohon and Greg Webster as Shackleton), playing multiple roles, maneuver three tables on rollers, a metal filing cabinet, hat rack, some chairs and three huge wastebaskets, subtly crafting not only the paper-pushing specificity of their monotonous office environment but also dramatizing the edgy crew on Shackleton’s doomed ship.┬áZany humor abounds, augmented by Ken Clark’s musical accompaniment, Dan Rousseau’s lighting and Lucy Brown’s minimal costumes/accessories.

This 90-minute intermissionless work is the most innovative, exciting theater I’ve seen in a long time. But it closes on June 29. So if you want to share this experience, call the box-office at (203) 787-4242 or visit immediately.

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