Art Beat: Play in progress takes an unflinching look at village life

mdunham@adn.comDecember 1, 2012 

Theater fans can enjoy a lot of good choices in town right now. Reliable critics who have caught UAA's spirited, big cast "Spamalot" (playing through Dec. 9) tell me it measures up well with professional productions they've seen of the popular Monty Python spoof. Several shows have sold out, we hear. And a "You Be the Critic" review of Anchorage Community Theatre's off-beat Christmas comedy, "My Three Angels" (playing through Dec. 23) is now posted online at Just part of the holiday merriment filling the entertainment calendar at the moment.

Then you have what's happening at Out North right now, a workshop production of "Cikiuteklluku (Giving Something Away)" by Holly Stanton of Bethel. This is new work by an Alaska playwright that attempts to take an unflinching look at some of the most contentious -- and unspoken -- issues in the state and, to a large degree, succeeds.

Stanton's plot revolves around the character of a pregnant Yup'ik teenager in a Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta village who struggles to decide what to do with the child. Her aunt and her boyfriend's mother are willing to adopt the baby, but the girl doesn't want her child trapped in the very village from which she longs to escape. That leaves the option of letting a non-Native couple take the child -- far from Alaska, as it turns out.

I liked this play a lot. Not because it's finely written; it's not. The audience at the Thursday night preview was told in no uncertain terms that it is still a work in progress, a rough draft. In a post-curtain discussion viewers debated what scenes might be shortened or cut. (It ran 21/2 hours with intermission and could probably lose 40 minutes without shortchanging either plot or key details.)

But the gravity of the subject of teen pregnancy -- with the collateral issues of ethnicity, culture, generational frictions, substance abuse, education, overt and unconscious racism -- and Stanton's courage in putting it all on display through the medium of several lively characters makes this an important play for Alaskans.

As the teenager, Liza, Mary Lou Rock was spot on, alternately vulnerable and determined, winning the hearts of the audience from beginning to end. The scenes with her mother, sweetly played with the occasional touch of humor by Martha Jack, were particularly touching.

Maxton Scott portrayed Liza's boyfriend in a tour de force. The boy is dedicated to partying and urban rap idols. For him village culture means Nikes, baseball caps and his cousin's next shipment of weed. In an arresting soliloquy (most characters in the play have one) Stanton has him lay out the resentment and frustration of being a young man in a roadless town with no jobs and no hopes for the future. This monologue alone should be seen by every Alaskan.

Secondary characters include Jill Sowerwine and Jeff Aldrich as the childless non-Native couple, somewhat snared in their own good intentions, preconceptions and prevarications. Margaret Rose Roehl has a brief but telling role as Liza's auntie. Jack Dalton has an even briefer cameo as Liza's father.

Ed Bourgeois directs the play, a collaboration with Perseverance Theatre, the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the California-based Native Voices at the Autry National Center. It's part of a project to encourage new work by Native playwrights. As a "developmental production," not a world premier, it is only being run this weekend. The final performance is at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at Out North, 3800 DeBarr Road. Tickets are $15 at


Junie Jones is coming to town

A dramatization of the popular young reader series about first-grader Junie B. Jones comes to town next week as Alaska Junior Theater presents actors from TheatreworksUSA. There'll be a number of shows for school children and several public events, including:

• A meet-and-greet for the actors, with a craft activity in the mix, at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, on at the Storytheater on the second floor of Loussac Library. This event is free.

• A "Pre-show birthday party" with games, treats and a chance to meet Junie, at noon on Saturday, Dec. 8, in the Discovery Theatre -- $20 per child.

• A public performance of the play, actually a musical peek into Junie's "Top-Secret Personal Beeswax Journal," at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8, also in the Discovery Theatre. Tickets are $11-$24, available at For more information go to or call 272-7546.


New mural in Kalskag

George Morgan Senior High School is the latest facility to get a community portrait/mural by Anchorage photographer Kevin Smith. Smith described the percent for art project, installed last weekend, at 6 feet tall and 58 feet long: "It wraps around three walls of the commons space in the school," he explained and is an mosaic of "over 200 individual images comprised of elder portraits, subsistence activities, historical images and a 360 degree panoramic image from the hills above the village."

Kalskag is located on the Kuskokwim River near the point in that river that is closest to the Yukon River. Smith has previously done similar pieces in Tuluksak, Akiachak, Akiak, Deering, Shungnak, Noatak and Kalskag. He is currently working on a series of murals for the school in Anuktuvuk Pass.

Southcentral residents will find his work at Machentanz Elementary in Palmer, the Harry McDonald Center in Eagle River and Fire Station 4 in Anchorage. Or mark calendars for his show at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, coming in March.

The focus of the show, he says, "is bringing the rural Alaskan lifestyle and culture into the big city of Anchorage. I feel that the majority of people that live in the urban centers of Alaska have no idea of how the Native/rural community lives. I hope to show the viewers a slice of life from rural Alaska and possibly open up a dialog for reflection on the urban/rural divide we have in this state."

  Correctional concert

The next performances by the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center Women's String Orchestra will take place at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8. The guest musician will be Zuill Bailey, an internationally noted cellist and director of the Sitka Music Festival. Tickets are $30, with money going to support the music program in the prison, and must be purchased in advance with all members of the audience pre-cleared to enter the facility. Details are at


'Snow Child' back on the list

Eowyn Ivey's novel "The Snow Child" was issued in paperback about a month ago and immediately jumped back onto the regional bestseller list compiled by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. The book by the Mat-Su author came in number three the paperback fiction category in the Nov. 18 listing. "Cloud Atlas" and "Life of Pi" were numbers one and two.


Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.


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