LENOX -- Caught in the downdraft of the recent economic meltdown, Walter, a cog in the wheel of an insurance company facing tough times, finds himself unexpectedly promoted to a management position even as his colleagues are being let go.
Completely inexperienced and unprepared to lead a group of men and desperate for help, Walter finds life lessons in managing a group of men in the most unexpected source -- Antarctic explorer Earnest Shackleton's account of successfully guiding his crew of 27 men through a harrowing exercise in survival when their ship, the Endurance, is crushed by ice in the midst of the Antarctic
Thus the premise of a new theater piece, "Endurance," which is being presented in a handful of remaining performances at Shakespeare & Company's newly renamed Tina Packer Playhouse, formerly Founders' Theatre, by the visiting Split Knuckle Theatre, an internationally touring company of actors who develop their theater pieces in a truly collective enterprise, without the interpretive guidance of a director.
The problem with "Endurance" has far less to do with this four-member acting ensemble than with the material itself. The premise is intriguing but, even at a purposeful 90 minutes or so, "Endurance" plays like a 15- or 20-minute sketch that has been stretched to 90 minutes and treads in place while getting there.
The performances, however, are physically nimble and inventive. "Endurance" saves its most pointed and witty observations for the scenes set in Walter's office and a bar to which Walter (played affectingly, with nice balance and range, by Michael F. Toomey) and his office mates repair after work.
The Shackleton sequences, led by a fatherly Greg Webster as Shackleton, play with less clarity, interest and vitality even though the story of Shackleton and his crew's survival is one of the more remarkable incidents in world exploration.
It would be worthwhile to see this troupe in action with other material.
ENDURANCE by Split Knuckle Theatre. Adapted, created and performed by Jason Bohon, Andrew Grusetskie, Michael F. Toomey and Greg Webster -- with writer Nick Ryan; lighting designer, Dan Rousseau; costume designer, Lucy Brown; music director, Ken Clark; dramaturg, Dassia Posner; dialect coach, David Alan Stern; performance development, Seth Bloom; text, Nick Ryan. Through July 15. Eves.: July 11, 14 at 7:30; Mats.: Saturday and July 15 at 2. Shakespeare & Company, Tina Packer Playhouse (formerly Founders' Theatre), 70 Kenble St., Lenox. Tickets: $60-$15. (413) 637-3353; shakespeare .org. 1 hour 28 minutes