Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre’s Lear Khehkwaii
Empress Theatre, Fairbanks April 5-7 & May 10-12, 2013
Statewide April & May 2013
Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre (FST) is pleased to announce it will once again participate in the National Endowment for the Arts, Shakespeare in American Communities theatre initiative, Shakespeare for a New Generation. In cooperation with Arts Midwest, Shakespeare for a New Generation brings professional theater productions of Shakespeare and related educational activities to students in communities of all sizes throughout the country, particularly those of underserved schools and schools that lack access to the arts due to geography, economic condi-tions, ethnic background or disability in rural or urban communities. This is the third time FST will participate in this program that introduces middle and high school students to the power of live theatre and the masterpieces of William Shakespeare.
FST will be touring a 90 minute version of Shakespeare’s King Lear inspired by Gwich’in language and culture, Lear Khehkwaii. The play is set in late 1800’s Alaska, a time when Alaska Native cultures were introduced to western influences and when the King James Bible (originated in Shakespeare’s time) was being translated into the Gwich’in language. Half of the script has been translated into the Gwich’in language and will be incorporated into the production and performed by a multi-cultural cast of eleven artists including native Gwich’in speakers, Alaska Native, Native American actors and FST company members. The project incorporates arts education and language revitalization through the live performance of one of the world’s greatest story tellers, William Shakespeare.
Lear Khehkwaii, directed by Tom Robenolt and featuring Allan Hayton as Lear, will premiere at the Empress Theatre in Fairbanks on April 5, 6 & 7, 2013. The production will then tour to schools in Anchorage, Tok, Nenana, Healy, the Kenai Peninsula, Kotzebue, Nome and Arctic Village. The tour will end with matinees for Fairbanks students and final public performances at the Empress Theatre, May 10, 11 & 12, 2013.
For more information about Lear Khehkwaii and how you can contribute to this unique, multi-cultural, language revi-talization, theatre project visit www.fstalaska.org.
For information contact:
Rebecca Eddy, Managing Director
Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre
Review from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, written by Scott McCrea.
FAIRBANKS — There’s a claim that not a day goes by that “Our Town” isn’t performed on some stage somewhere. Certainly believable, given the fact that Thornton Wilder’s sentimental drama is considered the quintessential chestnut of American theater, with productions performed by small town community theater groups all the way to large stage revivals, most recently with a critically acclaimed run in Santa Monica starring Helen Hunt.
The fact that it is so popular, and that most regular attendees of theater have had some experience with “Our Town” at some point, poses a challenge for community theater groups to stage something that makes their version of “Our Town” unique from the myriad other productions out there.
Is the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre version of “Our Town,” directed by Ray Parshall and currently running at the Empress Theatre, that different from others out there? On some levels, yes. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter as the production is a superb one, with outstanding performances across the board.
What makes it so captivating is the subtle audience involvement. We don’t feel like observers of “Our Town,” we feel like inhabitants. This is in part due to the stage set up, with bleachers on either side of the stage facing each other, as well as the fact that characters mingle regularly among audience members.
It also helps that the production is staged at the Empress Theater, one of my favorite theater venues in Fairbanks. Located on top of the Co-Op Diner (a local iconic and nostalgic spot of sorts), we have to immerse ourselves directly into the heart of our town — the town of Fairbanks — to see the play.
The story of “Our Town” unfolds over a series of three acts and encapsulates a variety of themes familiar to all of us at some point — love, family, death, sorrow, community and more. Guiding us through the journey is the Stage Manager, played to perfection by b.d. Rogers. There is not a better actor or actress in all of Fairbanks who could have been chosen for this essential role of the being the play’s narrator. His character is a down home and friendly one, wise and sentimental, and the type of person you would want in your town, the type of person you would want to saddle up next to at the local diner or bar and listen to him tell stories.
Though we are introduced to several residents of the town of Grover’s Corner, the key focus in the play is on the lives of two families and neighbors -— the Webbs and the Gibbses. The Webbs’ father, played by P.J. Gesin, is the editor of the local newspaper, while the Gibbses’ father, played by John Welch Moffatt, is the local doctor. Their wives, Mrs. Webb (an excellent performance by Rebecca Eddy), and Mrs. Gibbs (Marjorie Grunin) are stay-at-home moms, who toil from sun-up to sundown taking care of their household.
Tying the two families together is the unfolding relationship of the teenagers, Emily Webb (Jessie Taylor) and George Gibbs (Jack O’ Brien). They are perhaps the two characters that we end up caring for the most, and in each case, their performances were highly believable and absolutely captivating as we watch their relationship progress from being childhood friends in the first act, to love and marriage in the second, and to chilling tragedy in the third act.
The rest of the play’s characters had fairly minor roles compared to the main players above, but well-done performances are delivered by Michael Riggenbach (Simon Stinson), Susie Hackett (Mrs. Soames) and Tom Moran (Professor Willard). And as if Rogers didn’t have enough on his hands with the monologue-heavy role of Stage Manager, he takes on two additional roles as Howie Newsome and Joe Stoddard.
While FST’s last production, “The Campaign,” was chock full of eye candy, “Our Town” is about as sparse as you can get for set design, with one exception in the third act that was truly awesome (I use “awesome” because I love bacon, and will leave it at that). But that all ends up being OK, because the lack of props allows us to fully engross ourselves with the characters. The only time there was ever a distraction was through some of the moments where performers were pantomiming their actions, and at times, it wasn’t clear on what exactly they were supposed to be doing.
“Our Town” runs through Dec. 9 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Make the trek downtown and join the community. You’ll be glad you did.
For more information and tickets, contact FST at fstalaska.org or call 457-POET.
From Scott McCrea of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner; October 11, 2012
Perhaps one of the more difficult forms of theater for your average audience member to comprehend is the style known as “Theatre of the Absurd.” It was a style that emerged after World War II with playwrights such as Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet. Theater critic and scholar Martin Esslin, who coined the phrase, wrote “The Theatre of the Absurd attacks the comfortable certainties of religious or political orthodoxy. It aims to shock its audience out of complacency, to bring it face to face with the harsh facts of the human situation as these writers see it.”
It’s not a style of theater common in Fairbanks, though the late Theatre UAF professor Anatoly Antohin would often times delve into the arena in his productions. Those wanting to get a dose of this world can do so with the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theater production of “Campaign: The Spectacle.” But in the case of this play, it’s more like an overdose.
Written by a local playwright who chose for some reason to remain anonymous, “Campaign” is a dark satire that focuses on how our presidential election would be if the whole political process was reduced to a one-night game show, with three candidates competing for the seat in the oval office.
It’s a great concept with enormous potential and most definitely is a timely production. The show features an accomplished director (Tom Robenolt), an exceptionally talented cast with some great newcomers to the Fairbanks theater scene, a vibrant and dynamic set, and one damn good rock and roll band. All of the pieces were there to make this into something truly wonderful — the missing element being, unfortunately, a rock solid script.
“Campaign,” more than anything, seems to suffer from an identity crisis as far as not being entirely sure of what kind of play it wants to be or how it wants us, as audience members, to react or feel. There are moments when the focus is almost there — where you really feel as if you are understanding the message and what the show is conveying. Then, all of a sudden, a harlequin rides by on a tricycle and throws popcorn in your face and you’re back to square one, scratching your head (which is now covered in popcorn) and trying to figure out what exactly is going on.
Having said that, you won’t at any point be bored with the production nor will you find yourself looking at your watch. The play demands your attention from the beginning. Everything is loud and colorful and larger than life with non-stop eye candy. The actors don’t just appear on stage, they consume it, pulling you into their characters and world whether you want to join them or not. John Moffat leads the way as the frenetic master of ceremonies, Cash, who changes his personality just as much as his wardrobe; Levi Rion Ben-Israel as the aforementioned harlequin, who packs the energy of an entire power plant into his performance; Rakeem Edwards as Mr. Washington, the gyrating and smooth-talking incumbent; and Julia Hnilicka as the Palin-esque candidate Ms. Patterson, whose treatment in the show is unnerving at times.
The character that captivated me the most was that of the third candidate, Mr. Pupet (think “puppet”), played by Ian Tully. Tully didn’t have a lot of dialogue to work with, but his stage movements were some of the best I have seen and he displayed physical talents that took in a performance of their own.
The audience is pulled into the show as well, getting a chance to ask candidates questions and even partaking in a game on stage. Interesting approach but ultimately not the most effective. You want your audience to become involved and engaged, but you don’t want them to sit through the show being nervous that they might be forced to join in on the action.
The band, consisting of James Bartlett, Cassidy Phillips, Isaiah Kane and Gavin Hage, were spot on in their musical delivery and took the already high energy of the show from a 10 to an 11. Scenic designer Gary Graves, scenic artist Greg Gustafson and video/TV designer Chris John George team up to create a set that is a spectacle of its own, complete with a bank of 22 televisions showing a variety of footage ranging from news clips to cartoons throughout the show. There’s even a cameraman who follows characters as they go off stage, and the audience gets to see what happens on the screens.
Despite the above criticisms, I do want to applaud FST for being willing to roll the giant dice and take a chance on a local playwright as well as featuring a play that is far outside the norm of your typical local theater. “Campaign: The Spectacle” might not be quite ready for prime time just yet, but as I said before, the potential to do so is certainly there.
The Henry IV, part 1 review is here.
Robert Hannon, writing for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner says, “Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre’s talented cast and crew allow all the elements Shakespeare introduced in ‘Henry IV, Part I’ to shine;” and continues, “After 20 years, Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre has matured into a seasoned company.”
Get your tickets now!