Art beat: Laboring for art, actors lug dirt, step into freezers

Mike Dunham
Local poet Arlitia Jones works at her family owned business C & J Tender Meat Co. where many of her poems are inspired. She recently had a poem published that mentioned the only color in the room is the "red on the steaks."
Bill Roth
"Not her face!" Pictured left to right are Annia Wyndham as Masha, Tamar Shai as Svetlana and Morgan Mitchell as Lubov. A Gulag Mouse by Arthur M. Jolly at Out North, opening this Friday, March 22 at 8 p.m.
Actresses in "A Gulag Mouse" recreate prison labor, carrying boxes of bologna up stairs at C&J Tender Meats. Morgan Mitchell (l), Jill Sowerwine, Danielle Rabinovitch and Annia Wyndham.

You wouldn't think that thespians in Alaska would have much trouble getting into character when the roles are of people freezing in a Siberian penal camp. But director Arlitia Jones had the cast of "A Gulag Mouse," which opened on Friday at Out North, doing time in the "blast freezer" at C&J Tender Meat Co. "to understand the world of the play they were about to undertake."

It helps that Jones' family owns the commercial meat shop, which is where rehearsals took place.

The 20-below-zero temperatures were not as cold as a Siberian winter, Jones noted, but the "harshness of that manufactured cold on their exposed skin ... greatly informs their performance."

In another improv section, the women reenacted the labors at a makeshift Kolyma gold mine shaft, tramping up stairs while carrying buckets of dirt -- actually cases of sliced Bar S bologna.

"I made them do this work for about 45 minutes," Jones said. "They formed important bonds or attitudes with their fellow prisoners and developed a definite sense memory in the body for exhaustion."

"A Gulag Mouse," the story of five women trying to escape their Stalin-era prison, is described as "vicious, thought-provoking, touching and hopeful." The author, a young, award-winning Californian, Arthur M. Jolly, has come to Anchorage for the production. 

Jolly's play was among those passed around at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez last year, where many of Jones' own plays have also received readings. On the way back to Anchorage, Jones and actress/director Jill Sowerwine laid plans for creating a theater company and presenting the play.

TossPot Productions, as two named their enterprise, is formed on what Jones described as a "company model," with a group of core people taking time to develop a show. "We believe in providing artists with time to explore and discover," she said. "We are thinking of ourselves as the slow food movement of theater in Anchorage."

They have presented some readings at Out North, where they have the status of a resident company, but "A Gulag Mouse" is their first fully staged show. It's also the directorial debut for Jones, an award-winning poet before turning to theater.

Showtimes are 3 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday through April 7 at Out North. Tickets are $20.

New Ruhl play at Cyrano's

Codi Costello will have her 40th birthday while directing Cyrano's production of "Dead Man's Cell Phone" by Sarah Ruhl, which opens Friday. Ruhl's hit, "The Clean House," was a crowd pleaser at Cyrano's some years ago. The new play is described as "biting, brilliant, oddball satire" that examines how people behave in a technology-obsessed world.

It's not Costello's first time in the director's chair. A graduate of the Actor's Studio in New York, she work-shopped a number of shows there and has stayed busy with Anchorage companies since moving here a few years ago.

There will be cake and ice cream on opening night, we're told. The show will be presented 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through April 21.

Geometric vision

The Design Forum's next presentation will be by architects from Plasma Studio in London. As the name suggests, Plasma has a reputation for playing with forms, eye-catching "shifts, folds and bends" that tweak space in an exploration of how furniture, houses and landscape can be organized. The purpose of the studio's vision is to "develop a new local vernacular that engages with the landscape."

Presentations will take place at 7 p.m. Monday at the Anchorage Museum, at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Blue Loon in Fairbanks and at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Gold Town Nickelodeon in Juneau. Admission to the Anchorage talk is $10, $5 for students.

Evening of song

Anchorage Opera singers will present a special concert to benefit the company's "Max the Match" campaign, a fundraising effort driven by the pledge of up to $250,000 to match new donations to the company.

Featured performers include Benjamin Robinson, Jane Drebert, Justin Birchell, Nancy Caudill and several other performers associated with Anchorage Opera. The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Discovery Theatre. Tickets, $25, are available at

Gage featured in photo show

Anchorage photographer Hal Gage is among 68 artists selected for the 2013 Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers Program -- aka "Drawers" -- presented by Blue Sky, the Oregon Center for the Photographic Art in Portland.

The show, in which each artist is represented by 10 prints or objects from a single body of work, will open April 4 and remain on display through March 2014.

"Display" may not be the right word. The art will be in a flat file drawer. Visitors at the gallery open the individual drawers to see the work. Apparently it's popular, having been running since 2007 and expanded last year to include photographers from throughout the Pacific Northwest. It coincides with Portland Photo Month, which is observed in April. Jurors were Diana Millar and Ed Marquand.





Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.