A new look at some American stories

Perseverance sets play schedule for upcoming season

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

An Alaska adaptation of ``Moby Dick'' and a modern version of ``The Scarlet Letter'' will be part of Perseverance Theatre's upcoming season.

``I wanted to create a season that looks at great American stories from different perspectives,'' said Artistic Director Peter DuBois, who chose the six mainstage plays for the 2000-2001 season.

DuBois believes Alaska embodies quintessential American themes such as the frontier, heroism, homesteading, and the tension between indigenous world views and pioneer world views.

In planning the upcoming season, he applied those concepts and looked at classic and contemporary American stories. He brainstormed with Perseverance staffers and supporters, and took suggestions from community members. Some of the ideas were test-read at the theater's annual spring playreading festival in April.

One play was selected partly because it was so well-received at that festival, DuBois said, and because it embodies the American value of heroism. The season will open in September with Margaret Edson's dramatic comedy, ``Wit,'' winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

``I felt like the main character is so heroic. She's able to take something that's happening in her own life, dealing with cancer, and turn it into a life lesson for the audience. But it's not a weepy self-indulgent piece of theater, It's funny, moving, a beautiful play,'' DuBois said.

Juneau actress and director Anita Maynard-Losh has been cast in the lead. ``Wit'' will be the mainstage directorial debut for Terry Kramer, who has long been associated with the theater in other capacities.

``I'm really trying to diversify our base of directors and designers with this season,'' DuBois said. ``We're also putting a lot of focus on training.''

``Desire Under the Elms'' by Eugene O'Neill will follow in the fall.

``Perseverance Theatre has never produced a play by Eugene O'Neill, and he's one of the three greatest American dramatists of this century,'' DuBois said. ``It's a frontier play that takes place on a farm. Two brothers go west to seek their fortunes and one stays behind.''

Perseverance has staged ``King Island Christmas'' as a winter musical each year for the past three years, but will not produce the play next year. ``We're considering presenting it every other year,'' DuBois said.

``Gypsy'' will be the season's musical, with Maynard-Losh directing. Set in the 1930s, ``Gypsy'' was the first major success for lyricist Stephen Sondheim. The musical is based on the memoirs of the famous burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee.

``It's about the death of vaudeville and the birth of burlesque. And burlesque is at heart of Alaska's non-Native performing traditions. It's what `Lady Lou' was, it's what the can-can shows are,'' DuBois said. ``It's also the greatest play ever written about a single mother.''

Last spring the Douglas theater collaborated with the New York-based S.I.T.I. (Saratoga International Theatre Institute) company to create ``Short Stories,'' an original play based on the lives of Southeast Alaskans.

The two companies will again join forces next spring to create and stage an adaptation of ``Moby Dick.'' DuBois said he wants to integrate the Alaska Native whaling tradition with the story of ``Moby Dick.''

``We're going to start working on it this summer, and I'm hoping to travel to whaling villages up north,'' he said.

DuBois said Melville was profoundly influenced by writer Nathaniel Hawthorne and Hawthorne's work, ``The Scarlet Letter,'' when he wrote ``Moby Dick.'' DuBois said that connection influenced his decision for another play next spring, ``In the Blood.'' DuBois described the new play by Susan Lori-Parks as an urban adaptation of ``The Scarlet Letter.''

``It was really well-received in New York. It's a very strong, powerful, emotionally charged and beautifully-written play,'' DuBois said.

Perseverance initially announced the next season will include a new version of ``Fry Tales,'' the play opening next week at the theater. DuBois said he's reconsidered that.

``We are going to do a piece of theater for young people, and it may not necessarily be `Fry Tales.' I'm also looking at some other ideas.''

The 2000-2001 season will also include an Alaska Native playreading festival, a reading of new Alaska works, a series of radio plays, and ``Voices From The Edge,'' the annual Perseverance Theatre playreading festival.

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