Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A few thoughts on LEADING LADIES, scoundrels and Alaska:

Alaska is a place full of schemers and dreamers, including a cast of characters playing roles as varied as governor, warrior, missionary, scientist and prospector. We tolerate big ideas and audacious schemes, perhaps believing that there is room for these ideas up here somewhere. While success is never certain, our history is full of people who try, who launch a scheme because they can. They can try because Alaskans rarely say no to a dream. Instead of why? Alaskans tend to ask why not?

Perseverance Theatre is just such a dream, in fact: Why Not start a professional theatre in Alaska? Dreaming and scheming are basic building blocks of any theatrical enterprise, and Ken Ludwig’s protagonists in LEADING LADIES are two archetypical theatre dreamers, who want something many theatre artists sacrifice to chase their artistic ambitions: a romantic partner to share their lives with. Perseverance was founded by an Alaskan dreamer with a crazy scheme, Molly Smith, and all of us who have chased our theatrical dreams in Alaska with and after her, are cut from the same cloth as the Jack and Leo in LEADING LADIES.

Actors in many cultures and periods in history have been lumped into a category of socially undesirable people- as Reverend Duncan Woolly so fervently reminds us in the play. Actors lie for a living, they keep odd hours, their labor produces no tangible material goods, they are scoundrels. Many of us Alaskans have a greater tolerance of scoundrels because we have too many friends and associates that fit the bill to write them off lightly.

From Tom Sawyer and Lucille Ball to Bart Simpson and Bernie Madoff, American scoundrels are at their best when they have a daring, nearly impossible plan. Plans involving money are popular, since many of us suspect that people with lots of money don’t have any good idea what to do with it and probably came by it dishonestly anyway. Con men who separate these people from their money are a great group of American folk-heroes, living in the province of hustlers, sketchy salesmen and other hard-scrabble types. Tough economic times like ours which put the squeeze on us all tend to expose these shady types, and lift the curtain on their craziest, most desperate schemes.

In Leo Clark and Jack Gable, Ken Ludwig has created two Shakespearean actors who are down to their last nickel and resort to a classic con game. Desperate for some cash so they can keep acting, they decide to take advantage of a dying widow and cheat her legitimate heir out of a major inheritance. It is the same swindle that Duke and King try to pull off in HUCKELBERRY FINN, right down to the English accents and the phony, deaf-mute, long-lost relative. Ken Ludwig is a great comic writer, so Jack and Leo don’t reap the spoils so easily, and they caper through an escalating series of absurd plot twists and end up walking off with a very different prize than they set out after.

All the world is a stage, and each of us in our time play many parts. The art of making theatre is often called the art of telling lots of little lies in order to create one big truth. Leo and Jack show up at Aunt Florence’s intending to play the role of children and heirs. Hopelessly smitten when they meet Meg and Audrey, they instead shift to the roles of lovers. Like any great pair of actors presented with a challenge, they sell what they’ve got and commit to playing their new roles. Even though they make their suit by way of multiple hoaxes, dresses and wigs; what they come to at the end is honesty, and the roles they play are truly themselves.

In rehearsal, actors try to “Sell it”. “Selling“ a scene means to convince the audience you are the character portrayed by committing fully, believing in, the actions that you are going through on stage. In LEADING LADIES, Leo tells Jack that impersonating the long-lost Stephanie is the “Role of a Lifetime”.

What is flirting and offering romantic love but a great sales pitch? What a perfect way to describe falling in love. When he says “role of a lifetime”, Leo doesn’t realize that falling in love is what he and Jack are both about to do, but that is the nature of love and acting: sometimes, we improvise. Ludwig’s actors turned con men-turned lovers are like us: We all, on a deep and profound level, live by ‘selling’ our lives the way an actor ‘sells’ a scene. And what more apt description is there for the role of a romantic partner than “role of a lifetime”? In love, we are the goods we sell, we offer ourselves to our beloved to freely accept or reject. If we are committed and successful, we get to play the role of our lifetime with a great romantic partner.

As you go about playing the role of yourself in the story of your life, be sure to commit and sell yourself, may your adversity be overcome through the joy of knowing the people around you, and may you fall in love with your leading lady…or your leading man?

Enjoy the show,

Art Rotch,
Artistic Director

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