Like those background characters in Shakespeare?s most durable tragedy, Crean was always part of the action when those celebrated British scientists and adventurers were trying to conquer the Antarctic, but he never became famous and remains, to this day, something of an overlooked footnote, if that, in the troubled history of polar exploration.
Crean?s anonymousness is all the more surprising in the face of the fact that he alone took part in all three of the period?s most significant British exploratory ventures.
Born in 1877, he joined the Royal Navy at 15 and served on HMS Discovery from 1901-04, on Terra Nova from 1910-13, both under Scott, and on Endurance, on the expedition headed by Shackleton from 1914-16.
Crean would probably remain forever a shadow figure were it not for Michael Smith?s biography, ?Unsung Hero,? which was one of the primary sources, not to mention inspirations, for ?Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer,? the extraordinary one-man show written and performed by Galway-born actor Aidan Dooley, and being performed as part of the 7th New York International Fringe Festival, which began last Friday and continues all over Lower Manhattan through Aug. 24.
Speaking directly and, for the most part, gently to his audience, the shyly humorous and self-effacing Dooley presents an easily digested mini-history of the British adventures and misadventures in which Crean took part and which consumed so much of his life between the ages of 24 and 39, when he came back from the Endurance voyage.
At the same time, in his charmingly understated way, Dooley both subtly impersonates Crean and ?demonstrates? the primitive and often inadequate equipment with which Shackleton and his colleagues had to equip the expedition.
As he dons, one after another, the items worn by Shackleton and the others, ?distressed? garments that look almost alarmingly real, Dooley, at moments, very nearly approaches resembling a package, or a heap of equipment left behind at base camp and rediscovered decades later.
When Scott divided his party and sent one segment of the Terra Nova company off in search of rescuers, Crean was part of the unit that survived, while the captain, and the men he chose to remain with him, perished.
The following year, 1914, Tom Crean signed on with Shackleton as part of the Endurance component, a company that, despite experiencing nearly unimaginable hardships during a two-year period, survived to a man.
The Endurance expedition is vibrantly recorded for all time in the film, ?South,? made largely from the work done by the unit?s photographer, the Australian-born Frank Hurley.
The ship Endurance was tapped and crushed by Antarctic ice flies and, after surviving on the ice for months, Crean and four others journeyed in a 21-foot lifeboat some 600 miles across the south Atlantic.
Crean and the rest of Shackleton?s team finally reached help for the men they?d left behind by scaling the uncharted glaciers of South Georgia. That the Endurance team survived is, as one and the same time, a near miracle and a resounding tribute to Sir Ernest Shackleton?s intelligence and professionalism.
After being medically discharged from the Royal Navy in 1919, Crean married a girl from the Kerry town of Annascaul, settled there, opened a pub and raised a family. He died of a ruptured appendix in 1938 at age 61.
If Dooley?s ingenious little show gets the attention it deserves, the memory of Tom Crean may enjoy a whole new life. Dooley?s show has four remaining performances.
HARDSHIPS OF URBAN LIFE
Sharing the space where Dooley is performing, Fat Chance Productions? Ground Floor at 312 West 11th Street, is Pat Candaras, a stand-up comic who employs an unprintable ?also known as? moniker, and who, over the course of the last four or five years, has accumulated something of a following in the downtown club scene.
Her new act, ?Panic Is Not a disorder,? directed by Rusty Owen, is debuting at the Fringe with its final performance scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 23.
Candaras, who was born Pat Wallace into a family of 17 Irish-American youngsters, is a rosy-cheeked, round-faced grandmother with the vocabulary of a dockworker, which she delivers as she gazes slyly at her audience through thick-lensed, black-framed eye-glasses.
Her materials, for the most part, are familiar, detailing the hardships and complexities of urban life in trying days, wartime very much included.
The comic, in her solo show of roughly an hour?s duration, describes the habits of her husbands, of whom there appear to have been several, and the behavior of her three grown children, regarding at least one of whom she appears to have an ambivalent attitude.
Candaras?s delivery is simple and direct, but not lacking in subtlety, as she stands before the microphone in a simple black dress, with a sheer silk shawl over her shoulders.
Obviously completely aware of her audience, on whose intelligence she depends, she gauges her performance by the rhythm and intensity of their responses.
Some of her material will undoubtedly prove to be too sexual and too candid for some hearers, despite the fact that she delivers her stories, jokes and comments with what might best be described as a kind of pervasive sweetness.
To put it another way, if the obscenities were scraped from the surface of the act, ?Panic Is Not a Disorder? would probably be shortened by about five minutes.
Pat Candaras worked for 23 years in the corporate sector, and then retired and started to do stand-up. She lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and is, by her own admission, ?a very good housekeeper,? seemingly addicted to dusting, which she does as an effective way of avoiding visits to the gym.
The New York International Fringe Festival, gaining strength and volume each year, has more than 200 ?attractions? this time, performed on a tight schedule, coming and going like clockwork in something like a dozen-and-a-half mainly downtown venues.
In time, the New York International Fringe Festival may well engulf Manhattan. Details, (212) 279-4488.