Perseverance Theatre Launches 40th Season with OUR TOWN
Perseverance Theatre, Alaska's professional regional theatre company, launches its 40th Anniversary Season this week with Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. The iconic American drama, featuring an all-Alaskan cast directed by Art Rotch, will play Oct. 5-Nov. 3 at the theatre in Juneau, and Nov. 9-25 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts in Anchorage.Irene Bedard (Inupiaq, Yupik, and Métis Cree), the Anchorage-born actor who gave voice to Disney's Pocahontas and Suzy Song in Smoke Signals, among other groundbreaking roles, will play the Stage Manager for most of the performances in Juneau, and for the entire Anchorage run. When Bedard must bow out for other engagements, Juneau actors Frank Henry Kaash Katasse (Tlingit) and Miciana Alise Hutcherson (Tlingit), Bedard's official understudy, will share Stage Manager duties. Katasse is slated to perform Oct. 5-7; Hutcherson Oct. 26-28. Bedard is taking the Perseverance stage for the first time, in a part historically associated with white leading men; in recent years, more women and people of color have claimed the presiding role, as well as Our Town itself. A Pulitzer Prize-winner from 1938, and still one of the most-performed plays on American stages, Our Town has outgrown its unfair reputation as a quaint Norman Rockwell painting come to life. "This is a play about being a human being," Bedard said. "It's about the human spirit, it's about life and death and birth and loss and grief and forgiveness and family and togetherness. So of all the plays where I could circle back and be on stage in Alaska-I think it's wonderful that it's this play." Director Art Rotch said Alaskan audiences will see themselves clearly in the play's three straightforward acts, which center on daily life, love and marriage, and death-and in the play's characters, the flawed but endearing parents, children, town leaders, gossips, and ne'er-do-wells who make up the tight-knit Grover's Corners community.
"You'll know these people," Rotch said. "Thornton Wilder's writing is so iconic and so relatable-everybody gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, everybody knows the intimacy of those family relationships and those love relationships. And we're all mortal." In addition to the nontraditional casting of the Stage Manager role, the director pointed out, all the couples in the play are interracially cast. Two young Juneau actors, Ty Yamaoka and Ashleigh Watt, play George and Emily, the high school sweethearts at the center of the story. The Perseverance ensemble also includes artist-in-residence Enrique Bravo as Dr. Gibbs, Shadow Meienberg (Cherokee) as Mrs. Gibbs, Brían Wescott (Yupik) as Mr. Webb, Valorie Kissel as Mrs. Webb, Caleb Bourgeois as Simon Stimson, and Diane Fleeks as Mrs. Soames. Reflecting on her own role, Bedard said, "The Stage Manager is sort of like God's conductor, some sort of angel," similar to the Northwest Coast Native persona of Fog Woman, whom Bedard sometimes portrays in her storytelling performances. "She's like the first woman, the woman of all women," Bedard explained. "So if I'm imagining a Native woman Stage Manager in 1918, is she a clan mother? Is she a medicine woman?"
It's just one of the many big questions Bedard, Rotch, and the rest of the Our Town company have tackled over the past few months, in the little storefront theatre in Douglas. "This play really makes you think about your own life-the big things, but also just the little moments of your day," said Ashleigh Watt. She's had to draw upon every emotional resource in preparing the famous final act of Our Town, when Emily must say goodbye to everything she's known: "I went home after one rehearsal and I just hugged my mom and said, 'I love you.' And she was like, 'Okay, weirdo, what's going on?' And I told her, and she just hugged me for a long time, and said, 'I love you.' I really think it's helped me appreciate so many things." Perseverance's first staging of the play was in 1982, just three years into founding director Molly Smith's bold endeavor to bring serious theatre to the Juneau community. This new production, with Bedard as the leading storyteller, Rotch said, might be a chance for longtime audiences to reflect on the company's evolution since then, and to embrace its future as Alaska's professional regional theatre. "Perseverance has become a place where we can gather as artists and explore what it means to be Alaskan artists," Rotch said. "Our Town is a perfect piece to do that with." Our Town will have Pay-What-You-Can previews at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 and 4, at Perseverance Theatre, 914 Third St. in Douglas. Regular performances run Oct. 5-Nov. 3, with curtain times at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 4 p.m. Sundays, plus a 7:30 p.m. performance Wednesday, Oct. 24 (Juneau Arts Night, half-price admission). Single tickets are $28-$44 for adults, $19-$27 for students, and are available at www.ptalaska.org or by calling 907-463-TIXS (8497). In Anchorage, Our Town will have a Pay-What-You-Can preview at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 in the Sydney Laurence Theatre, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, 621 W. 6th St. Single tickets are $48-$60 for adults, $25-$37 for students and military, and are available at www.ptalaska.org, www.centertix.com, or by calling 907-263-ARTS (2787). Rush tickets are available for $15 for every performance, starting a half hour before curtain at the Centertix box office.