I saw a video of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire this afternoon. The wind was swirling at 110mph, the temperature was -50°, and the snow was flying in every direction like a freshly and maniacally shaken snow globe.
It was intended that I should be terrified, or at least intimidated by this.
I’ve been in Anchorage, Alaska watching the fog freeze.
I’ve landed in Edmonton, Alberta at 1am in February in an icy glaze.
I wandered jacket-less in a 45° morning in Key West seeing signs on store doors apologizing for being closed for the first time in decades because of the “frigid conditions.”
Perhaps you’re thinking; “Yeah, that’s rigorous, but you can’t compare it to Mt. Washington today.” And perhaps you’d be right.
…I’ve been to Antarctica…
…in the basement of Levas’ Restaurant in downtown Lexington in January.
It was the winter of 1985.
The unfinished basement of Levas’ Restaurant was the home of Actors’ Guild Theatre at that time and rehearsals were beginning for their next production; “Terra Nova” by Ted Tally, a dramatic retelling of the heroic, but doomed attempt by Robert Falcon Scott in 1910 to be the first to reach the South Pole.
Heroic but doomed…
One might be tempted to attach that same forecast to any attempt to recreate the vastness, harshness, whiteness, and absolute cold of the Antarctic in the basement of a Greek-leaning eatery/piano bar on Main Street in Lexington, Kentucky, an almost Southern city whose snow-removal system is longingly referred to as “April.” Keep in mind, said basement had concrete floors, square metal ceiling supports, low ceilings, and just enough space for about 30 plastic chairs for the audience. Nothing screams polar extremes like plastic chairs.
But for all those geologic and climatic and architectural obstacles, we had some things going for us.
The script was fine.
The director (Carol Spence) was committed and smart and clear. She assembled a rowdy cast and herded them expertly towards a moving end.
The landlord (Angel Levas) believed in the value of the arts but also believed in the value of good business. He resisted adjusting the thermostat of his building to accommodate the non-paying underground thespians. ‘Twas brillig indeed! The Antarctic’s proximity was a nightly given.
I recall one particular rehearsal when Carol brought in an improvisational consultant to lead us in an exercise involving the medical stages of freezing to death. We were supine on the floor in the dark and listening as he read from medical books of frostbite damage and the effects of blood flow becoming blood-fled. He crooned to us of the creeping muscular constrictions on the glide path to doom.
Why this show never became a musical plumb evades me.
White sheets were hung. Shiny white material obscured the support poles. The arctic sleds were pulled four feet and we believed they had been hauled forty miles. The plastic seats were filled with enthusiastic audiences who stood at the final curtain, though they may have been trying to get their blood flowing again.
I finally warmed up again by July.
Mt. Washington, you got nothing on me.