License to Chill

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 continues.

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.

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