Following last fall’s “Anything Helps God Bless,” a theater piece focusing on the issue of “signing” or panhandling in Portland, the Snowlion Repertory Company has returned for another look at people in the socioeconomic margins of society.

Manfred Karge’s 1988 “The Conquest of the South Pole,” as adapted by Snowlion and directed by Al D’Andrea for this New England premiere run, concerns unemployed millworkers from Rumford who seek to restore, however briefly, a sense of purpose to their lives.

The four friends attempt to transform a cluttered attic in Rumford into the frozen plains of the Antarctic in order to re-enact an expedition to the South Pole about which they’ve read. Most of these fellows initially see the whole exercise as rather silly. The wife of one even warns against all the “monkey business in the attic.” But with an attempted suicide fresh in their minds, the efforts of the four gather momentum, even as doubts persist.

Stylistically unusual, this production imaginatively explores the terrain of hope and despair. Both funny and touching, the play mixes fantasy and reality in both form and content to support a rethinking of the issues faced by these characters.

Known for his strong work in various Shakespearean roles, Ian Carlsen is all over the stage as his manic Slupianek seeks to push his friends forward, like the explorer Roald Amundsen, without having them fall into the crevasses of defeat. Whether in a flirtatious scene with his mate’s wife or in a drunken monologue, Carlsen is a riveting presence. His Slupianek may be half-crazed, but he’s compellingly all-in.

Cullen Burke personifies an omnipresent doubt when his character, Buscher, sullenly suggests it would be more appropriate for them to be re-enacting a failed expedition. As Seiffert, the most vulnerable of the worker/explorers, Eric Darrow Worthley offers some chilly laughs with his take on “l’ennui” and his descent into a personal abyss.

Ashanti Williams’ Braukmann struggles with the pull of domestic obligations before being won over by the shared dream of adventure. As his wife, Luisa, enticed both by her wacky/dangerous dance with Slupianek and her spouse’s efforts to come alive, Maergen Soliman shows her character’s eventual signing-on to the mission is crucial.

Caleb Streadwick plays a comically loyal companion of the group, while Natasha Salvo and Hal Cohen become late-arriving guests who suggest less-appealing alternatives that the men may yet be forced to accept.

The costumes by Brittney Cacace bring home the spirit-changing actions of the characters, and the set by Craig Robinson suggests the attic as a sort of before-and-after rehearsal space.

Unconventionally poetic and powerful, “The Conquest of the South Pole” reconfirms Snowlion’s thoughtful and heartfelt commitment to stories about those seeking to survive at the extremities.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.