Betrayals Of Matthew Henson

Poles Apart,a two-act play that explores the tricky relationship of the men who lay claim to being the first to reach the North Pole, and, as Paul Harvey would put it, tells ‘the rest of the story’.

It is now three months since Matthew Henson has come back from the north. The world seems to have turned upside down for him and his Commander, Lieutenant Robert Peary, since their claim to be the first to reach the North Pole. What should have been a triumph after a twenty-two year struggle, is now considered by many a hoax. The mood at their homecoming is one of recrimination, partisanship and racism.

This was the last thing Matt expected.

Matt Henson, a black man, had participated in the most celebrated enterprise of the era, the quest to reach the North Pole. He had become the partner of Robert Peary, whose dream of planting the American flag at the top of the world was an obsession since childhood. First chosen to accompany Peary as his manservant, Matt proved himself so indispensable that he soon became his assistant.Their attempts at the Pole continued for eighteen years, Matt the only man to return time after time on Peary's expeditions, becoming as obsessed as his Commander.


As the years passed and Peary had not made good on his promise to beat other nation's to the Pole, much of the public grew tired of his pronouncements of imminent success. The two men and their crew return home three days after Frederick Cook's announcement of having reached the Pole first. Cook, a young doctor, was on Peary's first expedition in the north, and the two men had their differences. Now, much of the public is inclined to believe Cook's claim of beating his rival. The country is "polarized" between the two.

No longer was Matt the most celebrated man in Harlem. Only his wife, Lucy stands by him as he is ridiculed as Peary's dupe and must wait for vindication. Constrained from speaking on his own behalf, Matt becomes moody and reclusive and starts drinking out of frustration and   the sense of betrayal he feels from Peary, as well as his own people. He is haunted by dreams of past events in his early life and the frozen north. He longs for the discarded friendship with the only "brother" he ever had. But Peary has no more use of the only man to ever stick by him, and through the current controversy, forbids Matt to speak out.

Only William Brady,a brash and flamboyant promoter and theatrical producer, seeks Matt out as  a potential attraction on the lecture circuit. If Brady knows his public, a "Negro At The  North Pole" is a sure-fire sellout with both whites and blacks at the box-office.

Brady battles with Matt to get him to speak. Matt is harboring secrets that prevent this. Enlisting Lucy Henson to assist him in unlocking these secrets, William Brady himself learns the hard way that America is not yet ready for the latest of his daring theatrical events.

Is the public willing to hear Matt's story? Has Matt Henson the courage to tell it? POLES APART is a drama in two acts that explores through flashbacks, dreams and lyric storytelling the heart and experiences of a black man much misunderstood and shunted by  history as much as he was in his lifetime. It is based on fact and imagination, employing sound, lights and language that offers a mosaic of Matt Henson, the man who was, and the man who did. 


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