The glory is in getting there. The going back part? So mundane. Of course if you don’t make it back, what’s the point? In Ted Tally’s historical drama, “Terra Nova,” two teams of explorers—one from England, one from Norway—race to be the first to reach the South Pole in 1912. Up to that point, the uninhabitable spot was untouched by man and therefore an open challenge to explorers and the scientific societies that financed such excursions. Smart planning and a bit of luck meant the Norwegians got there first; the Brits never made it back. Tally (who won an Oscar for his “The Silence of the Lambs” screenplay) based the play on letters and journals later retrieved off the frozen bodies of the Englishmen, and the resulting story is a compelling mix of practical and existential concerns. Director Brandon Bruce has assembled a terrific cast for this Backstage Theatre production, particularly Michael Pacas as lead explorer Robert Falcon Scott (who can say an awful lot with those startled stares) and Ronald Kuzava as Bowers, the chipper runt of the team. Good performances aside, the production is undermined by its shabby scenic design—a small budget is no excuse for a crappy set. Even so, the story is a gripping one, particularly if you’re an “Into Thin Air” type. These men suffered in no uncertain terms and it is all the more amazing that Earnest Shackleton would attempt the same trip two years later—and so famously make it back alive. (Nina Metz)
Backstage Theatre Company’s “Terra Nova” plays at Stage Left Theatre, 3408 North Sheffield, (312)683-5347, through December 18.