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Perseverance opens season with 'Carnage'

Posted: September 12, 2013 - 12:03am
Photo by Colleen Metzger
From left, Annia Wyndham, Allison Holtkamp, Brandon Demery and
James Sullivan rehearse for "God of Carnage," opening Friday.


Some of the most famous characters in literary history will cross the stage this season at Perseverance Theatre, along with others that few audiences have ever met. From Tennessee Williams’ Maggie and Brick Pollitt to Yasmina Reza’s Veronica and Michael Novak, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver to Arlita Jones’ Ruby Gold, each of this season’s characters will help tell the five stories the theater has picked for Juneau audiences for its 35th season. Three of those plays will also be presented at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts in Anchorage, in the third year of the theater’s expanded offerings.

Here’s an initial look at those five plays.

“GOD OF CARNAGE”

VéRONIQUE: Fortunately, there is still such a thing as the art of coexistence, is there not? – from Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage”

First up is “God of Carnage,” a French comedy that starts out as a civilized exchange between two sets of parents whose children have had an altercation, and ends up as a full-on adult brawl. The action unfolds in real time, with no intermission, in a single set.

Executive Artistic Director Art Rotch said the idea for the play was inspired by an experience the playwright’s friend had related about how her son had lost a tooth on the playground. What bothered Reza’s friend, Rotch said, wasn’t the tooth, it was the other parents, who had never stopped by -- or even called -- to apologize.

“And Yazmina said ‘I’m not so sure you really want that. Can you imagine what would happen if they actually did come over for a barbecue?’ And so she wrote this play, which is basically what could possibly go wrong if the parents came over to talk about it.” Rotch laughed. “‘A lot’ is the answer. They drink, they throw things at each other, they call each other all kinds of names, they knock over the furniture, everything.”

“It’s a playground fight,” added Shona Strauser, Perseverance Artistic Associate and Director of Education.

Strauser said she thinks September is a particularly great time to present a play about parenting, especially one that gets us to laugh at other people’s terrible behavior.

Rotch agreed.

“Nobody’s perfect, that’s for sure. Especially in this play. And I think it’s good to be reminded of this,” he said.

Directing this play is visiting theater artist Pirronne Yousefzadeh, from New York, whose work Rotch has admired in the past. The cast features strong local actors Brandon Demery, Allison Holtkamp and James Sullivan and visiting actor Annia Wyndham.

The play, winner of the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play, runs Sept. 13-Oct. 6 in Juneau and Nov. 1-10 in Anchorage

“TREASURE ISLAND”

FLINT: Tear the flesh from his bones, cut out his heart through his throat and throw the WHOLE MESS OVERBOARD!!” -- from Ken Ludwig’s “Treasure Island”

The holiday season is typically the time when the theater produces a bigger show with broad, all-ages appeal; this season they’ve chosen the classic adventure story, ”Treasure Island,” written by Robert Louis Stevenson and adapted for the stage by playwright Ken Ludwig,

A highlight of the production is the return of longtime former Juneauite and Perseverance veteran Anita Maynard-Losh as director. Strauser said the theater welcomes any chance to get to work with Maynard-Losh, adding that she is particularly good at handling large scale theatrical works such as this.

“It’s a chance to work with a large cast and she’s good at epic, as a director, I think,” Strauser said. “She’s excited to come back and the timing worked well, so it all fit into place nicely.”

Rotch said Maynard-Losh was also drawn in by the script, and Ludwig’s decision to leave RLS’s original language intact whenever possible,

“In his notes about the play he talks about it having a Shakespearian quality,” Rotch said. “And if you know Anita, her training was in those kinds of classics, she’s extremely good at them and knows them really well, so she’s tapping into that in her approach to directing the play.”

The well known coming of age adventure story is set in the West Indies and England in 1774 and offers some exciting opportunities for set design, choreography and music, as well as some iconic roles for local actors. Perseverance artistic associate Bostin Christopher, who played Lennie in last season’s production of “Of Mice and Men,” will play Long John Silver, the peg-legged pirate (“We’re still wondering what to do with his leg,” Strauser mused), and JDHS grad Aaron Abella, who recently returned from a performance at Ediburgh’s Festival Fringe, and who will play the young Jim Hawkins in the Perseverance play.

“He started doing work with Perseverance when he was 10 or 11, then he went to JDHS, and now he’s coming back and moving up the main stage,” Strauser said. “It’s exciting.”

“Treasure Island” runs Nov. 8-Dec. 8.

“RUSH AT EVERLASTING”

THE WOMAN KNOWN AS RUBY GOLD: Money is like snow. Hang on to it, and it melts away in your hand. Choice is to either wad it up in a little ball, put it away where you’ll forget about it or spend it quick. -- from Arlitia Jones’ “Rush at Everlasting”

Bostin Christopher will leave his peg-leg behind and move into a directing role for the next production, the world premiere of “Rush at Everlasting,” written by Alaskan playwright Arlitia Jones.

Rotch said Christopher introduced him to the play, encouraging him to accompany him to a reading at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez.

“It was the hit of the conference,” Rotch said. “It’s a really beautiful play, the quality of the language and the characters are so interesting.”

“Rush at Everlasting” is set in two locations and time periods: the fictional town of Everlasting, Alaska, in 1908, and in Chicago in 1933. In both, the main character, Ruby Gold, is striving to find a way to live the good life, a goal that seems forever out of reach. So she comes up with a plan.

“She’s never had the good things in life because she’s always been chasing a gold rush or a this or a that, so she’s decided that her best shot now is to rob a bank.” Rotch laughed. “It’s really not a very good plan, but she’s renting an apartment across the street from a bank.”

The title refers to both the Gold Rush and to the characters’ attempts to achieve their dream.

Playwright Jones, who is also a poet, recently won a Rasmuson Foundation fellowship award and previously was the recipient of a grant from the Alaska State Humanities Forum to write a play in celebration of Alaska’s 50 anniversary -- “Make Good the Fires,” produced by Cyrano’s Theater in 2009. Her plays have also been selected twice as finalists for the Samuel French festival in New York City.

“She’s pretty up and coming,” Rotch said.

The play runs Jan. 10-Feb. 2 in Juneau and Feb. 14-22 in Anchorage.

“CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF”

MARGARET: Living with someone you love can be lonelier -- than living entirely alone! -- from Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1955, is one of Tennessee Williams’ most popular works. Set in Mississippi, it centers on the relationships between husband and wife Maggie and Brick, and Brick’s parents, Big Daddy and Big Mama. The play offers some juicy roles for serious actors, and has been presented for the screen numerous times. The role of Maggie, for example has been played by Elizabeth Taylor, Nataile Wood, Jessica Lange and, most recently Scarlett Johansen, who acted in a Broadway revival of the play earlier this year.

Juneau’s production will star Perseverance company member and local favorite Enrique Bravo as Brick, and guest actor Elizabeth Kelly as Maggie, as well as Juneau’s Ricci Adan as Big Mama and former Anchorage actor Leandro Cano as Big Daddy, who is now based in Los Angeles.

Strauser said the play offers an opportunity for audiences to see a theatrical classic performed, as well as a chance for actors to further their craft through one of the masters of the form.

“You want to do things audiences enjoy but also challenge your artists,” she said. ”This is the perfect example of both. There are these classics that people just want to bite into.”

The theater produced “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” 30 years ago, long enough back to call for another production, Rotch said.

“There was a little resistance to doing plays that we’ve done before but I said, ‘30 years, guys, it’s OK,” Rotch joked.

This play will be directed by guest artist Robert Barry Fleming, who was recommended by Perseverance founder Molly Smith, now based in Washington, D.C.

This play runs March 7-30, in Juneau and April 11-27 in Anchorage.

“BOEING BOEING”

BERNARD: Fiancees are much more friendly than wives. And you don’t need all that many. I do very well with three. -- from Marc Camoletti’s “Boeing Boeing”

Written by Marc Camoletti, this 1960s-era farce centers on a Parisian bachelor named Bernard who successfully juggles three fiancees, all airline attendants, until unscheduled arrivals lead to an unexpected convergence. The play won a Tony Award in 2008 for Best Revival of a Play.

Rotch said audiences have once again embraced these types of period pieces, perhaps in part due to the success of the show “Mad Men,” also set in the 1960s.

“The farce is a form that comes and goes, too,” he added.

Farce usually involves aspects of slapstick or physical humor and exaggerated scenes -- and lots of doors, Strauser said, referring to the multiple entrances and exits made by the characters over the course of this play, as the main character tries to hide his lovers from one another.

“Boeing Boeing” will be directed by Perseverance company member Brandon Demery, who also appears as an actor this season in “God of Carnage. Strauser described him as a “meticulous” artist.”

“I love to watch his brain work,” she said.

The play runs May 2-25.

•••

The theater is still looking for some cast members for many of these productions, contact Strauser to find out more at 364-2421 or shona@perseverancetheatre.org.

In addition to continuing their Anchorage theater season, the theater will be hosting a summer theater festival in 2014, with Bostin Christopher at the helm in the planning department. The festival will be held at the JACC and will showcase new work by Alaskan artists, Rotch said. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Enrique Bravo will be coming on staff to help the theater figure out how to build their artistic company across the state. Also stay tuned.

Finally, the theater’s youth theater program, the Young Company, begins Sept. 24 under the direction of Strauser. They will stage “Charlotte’s Web.”

For more information, visit www.perseverancetheatre.org.

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