Reviews form the New York International Fringe Festival!!!
License to Chill
by Doug Strassler
The Antarctic Chronicles reviewed August 16, 2009
Jessica Manuel adjusts to life in a colder climate.
Photo Credit:Zoee B.
The Antarctic Chronicles
may take place deep in the frozen environs of the South Pole, but this
one-woman show starring Jessica Manuel in a virtuoso performance
radiates nothing but warmth.
Chronicles is part of the 2009 New York International Fringe
Festival. Manuel explains in the piece, which she wrote herself and is
running at the Players Loft, about how a need for change drove the
Midwestern-born-and-bred spitfire to seek out a change. Once the
novelty subsides, however, she finds life on the other side of the
planet still has its pitfalls. She has to perform manual labor,
including shoveling snow and turning valves, make sure she hydrates
enough so that her urine does not discolor, and eventually becomes
estranged from the boyfriend she left behind.
Throughout, though, Manuel keeps the pace moving with exquisite energy
and perfect comic timing. Her facial expressions, posture and gestures
punctuate the way her spirit gradually diminishes as her year
For a Fringe work, the show is also technically impressive.
Paul Linke, the director, seamlessly incorporates clever musical cues
and real visual images from Manuel’s year into Chronicles.
Highlights include Manuel’s breakfast buffet routine, mapped to Dolly
Parton’s “9 to 5,” and a glimpse at a snowy slasher movie.
Manuel’s spirited work is triumphant. There’s no better haven from this
late-summer heat wave than to catch the wildly diverting Antarctic Chronicles.
The Antarctic Chronicles
**** [FOUR STARS] Jessica Manuel's entertaining one-woman show, about
the year she spent in Antarctica as a fuels operator, showcases the
native Minnesotan’s talent. A former high-school homecoming queen,
Manuel—a natural Midwest beauty with a set of teeth to die for—is bored
in her dead-end postcollege administrative job. On a whim, she decides
to commit to a one-year stint in Antarctica. The ups and downs of the
next 12 months come to life under the direction of Paul Linke; a short
clip of home movies made by her colleagues in the frozen tundra
enhances her story as well. Manuel has an engaging personality and
impressive comedic range, and the audience seemed reluctant to leave:
They wanted to stay and hear about her next adventure—in
Australia.—Lisa Levinson, director of sales and marketing director
(North America/Latin America), Time Out Guides
Jessica Manuel’s self-written and performed one-woman comedy, THE ANTARCTIC CHRONICLES, presented as part of The New York International Fringe Festival,
vividly diaries her experiences on a year long career jump from
Minnesota to a U.S. science base in the South Pole. With visual aides
via projection and simple props, Jessica engages the audience in a
physical reenactment of her daily routine, relationships, and
self-discovery in one of the coldest regions of the world; where
summers are marked by new “fingi” arrivals and fresh produce, while
winters are isolated with eternal darkness and memory loss. The
coldest, driest desert on earth, and vibrant and youthful Jessica, who
chose to work there, conveys the adventurous atmosphere that she finds
herself transplanted into.
On this sweltering hot, dog-day of
August, it was a relief to feel the chill of the air-conditioned
Player’s Loft. The audience meanders into a dark theatre, the haunting
sounds of arctic winds and the softly cascading snow on the rear wall
of the stage melt away the wears of the day. The room has a tranquil
and yet, dangerous air as we settle into our cool seats. Then all of a
sudden, bright lights illuminate a wildly dancing Jessica, grooving to
the lively music. She quickly escorts us through her early years in
Minnesota, through College, and her first relentlessly boring cubicle
job. All of this mundane personal background history leads us into her
decision to go to a job fair in Denver for Raytheon, where she
discovered the enticement of a position in Antarctica.
Finally arriving, with much excitement
and enthusiasm, at her new job at McMurdo Station, Jessica unveils her
hopes, fears, and disappointments with the reality of Antarctica.
Throughout the 60minutes, Jessica reveals how, even in an exotic place,
like the South Pole, although the physical challenges may be extreme,
life is routinely banal and “middle-of-the-road,” much like her home in
This high-energy, episodic journey to
Antarctica invigorates the adventurer within. Jessica’s quirky physical
humor and animated facial expressions make light of the otherwise
dismal routine of the support staff on a U.S. science base in the
coldest desert on earth. The use of atmospheric sounds and music to
complement the scenes seamlessly infiltrates into Jessica’s comedy.
Jessica adeptly transforms physically and vocally, from neighborly
Minnesota accents to a burley Alaskan sled-dog running Dan, and many
others, in her epic chronicles. The strength of THE ANTARCTIC CHRONICLES is in Jessica Manuel’s charming comedic ability to recreate the awkwardness of the circumstances she finds herself in.
The taught direction of Paul Linke,
with excellent use of space and levels; Louis Sciarrotta’s atmospheric
sound design; and the icy scenic design by Mike Gaglio create a simple,
yet unified look to the world of the play. Jessica Manuel controls the
stage with such command and dexterity, that you can’t help but be
invested in THE ANTARCTIC CHRONICLES.
as a "Factual Frozen Comedy", it's a one woman show by Jessica Manuel
about her job as a support employee in the Antartic. Interspersed with
music, dancing and some silly videos from her time there, it's a zany
story. Jessica told why she decided to go in the first place - living a
dull, white break life hoping to live extraordinarily. The arc of her
excitement of first arriving in Antarctica to practical madness from
the months of cold (-80 below!) and no sunshine is nothing short of
hilarity. Jessica is a ball of energy and can really tell a story,
complete with the crazy miming of her job assignment in the fuel
department to time in the galley.
Not that I ever had any desire
to go to Antartica in the first place, now I know I don't need to go
thanks to this story that made me feel like I was there - but in a good
way. It was a quick hour of stand up comedy - fun and full of laughter.
It didn't hurt that the Player's Loft was cooled down to a welcoming
antartic feel on such a steamy day.
-Sara B's Adventures