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Life can be tough as an Irish warrior

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

He's a lover and a warrior, he's aging and half-crazy, and he's just met his greatest foe.

The saga of the legendary Irish warrior Cuchulain (pronounced Ca-Hoolan) unfolds in Juneau this weekend. ``Cuchulain's Fight with the Sea'' opens at 8 p.m. Friday at an outdoor theater set up on the University of Alaska Southeast campus. There's also an open dress rehearsal at 8 p.m. tonight. The event is sponsored by the Bread Loaf School of English and all four performances are free.

The production includes Aaron Elmore, Katie Jensen, Tracy Masonis, Ekatrina Oleksa and Alana Malone. David Hunsaker and Andy Ferguson will perform as musicians.

Elmore called Cuchulain a complicated character.

``In the pantheon of warriors and lovers in world mythology, those two qualities never came together quite the same as with him,'' said Elmore, who plays Cuchulain.

Cuchulain may or may not have been a real person. His deeds are part of Irish mythology. The Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote several short plays and a number of poems about the warrior-lover, which Juneau writer David Hunsaker adapted to create ``Cuchulain's Fight with the Sea.''

``It was more of an editing job, really, it's mostly all Yeats' words,'' Hunsaker said. ``He wrote a cycle of five short plays. I've taken two, and bits of the others, and cobbled them together, and I wrote some bridging material.''

Hunsaker is interested in combining elements of different cultures, and the play draws production techniques from Kubuki, a traditional Japanese theater style. Blood is a red silk streamer, a swath of silk becomes the turbulent ocean and simple movements take the actors miles away.

``That's the way they tell stories. Real things are represented with simple props and movements,'' Elmore said, adding that Kubuki served as a jumping-off point.

``We're not doing Kubuki theater, but it feels very Japanese. It's a wonderful tradition. The characters don't feel like Conan the Barbarian guys in furs running around. There's a nobility to the language that Yeats wrote that made us want something finer,'' he said.

Hunsaker added that Yeats himself was very interested in Japanese drama and structured his Cuchulain plays in a Kubuki-esque fashion.

``It's not completely me being a zany director and trying to impose something that's not in there at all,'' he said. ``I think people will find this very comprehensible. It's right out of Western mythology.''

Hunsaker said actress and singer Alana Malone will serve as a chanter, a musical storyteller. Hunsaker, who plays the small Scottish bagpipes and cittern (a kind of mandolin), and Andy Ferguson, who plays fiddle and sitar, will also be on stage playing music as part of the action.

``Yeats always loved traditional Irish music and he works the musicians into the plays. We've gone through and taken Irish airs and incorporated them, but again, in the style that Japanese music would've been used in Kubuki,'' Hunsaker said.

The play will be held at a covered outdoor theater space on the University of Alaska Southeast campus. A short trail from the upper parking lot near the UAS library leads to the theater area. Hunsaker said people may want to bring a pillow to sit on - and a blanket if it's chilly - but the area is covered and dry.

Theater is an important component to the Bread Loaf School of English, a graduate program of Middlebury College based in Vermont. Bread Loaf operates a writing program in Juneau every summer. Instructor Barry Press said the group is producing ``Cuchulain's Fight with the Sea'' as a culminating event for the summer.

Last year the group produced another Hunsaker-directed piece, ``Prospero and the Killer Whales.'' Hunsaker is serving a dramatist in residence for Breadloaf and he came up with the idea for ``Cuchulain.''

The play runs just under an hour and starts at 8 p.m. tonight, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.



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