race to the south pole

Peril on ice: an Antarctic tragedy

Lawrence Howard's "Polar Opposites: Amundsen, Scott, and the Race for the South Pole" spins a tale of adventure and deadly ambition

As the pre-show jazz band finished up a generous hour-long set at The Old Church on Saturday night and began packing up, Lawrence Howard sidled downstage, took a look at the big prop perched on a stand behind him, and turned to the audience conspiratorially. “I hate it when the map’s upside down,” he observed, and manhandled the thing – a giant representation of Antarctica and its surrounding waters – into proper position. Even way down under, it appears, what’s up is up and what’s down is down.

Lawrence Howard tells a tale of Antarctica. Photo: Kimmie Fadem

Then Howard, the co-founder of Portland Story Theater who is known as “The Armchair Adventurer” for his own long yarns of historical derring-do, pitched right into his tale, Polar Opposites: Amundsen, Scott, and the Race for the South Pole. Most but not all of Howard’s adventure tales are set against the challenges of the Arctic or Antarctic (he’s also recounted the stories of the Victorian Englishman John “Babbacombe” Lee, who was hanged three times and lived to tell the tale; and of the 1820 sinking of the whaler The Essex, a disaster that inspired Melville’s Moby-Dick), and Polar Opposites takes him back to familiar formidable southern territory. A tale Howard first told in 2011, on the centennial of the events it recounts, it’s the story of the competing expeditions in late 1911 and early 1912 of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and the British expeditionary leader Robert Falcon Scott to be the first humans to set foot on the geographic South Pole.

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