Art Beat: Two indelible plays in one week

Mike Dunham
Allan Hayton in the title role of Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre's "Lear Khehkwaii."
Photo by Valind Taylor
Nancy Caudill, seen here with Benjamin Robinson in Anchorage Opera's "Pirates of Penzance," performs at the Anchorage Festival of Music Spring Soiree today and presents a master class next Sunday.
Photo by Lauren Holmes
Princess Lucaj as Cordelia and Allan Hayton in the title role of Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre's "Lear Khehkwaii."
Valind Taylor
Masha (Annia Wyndham) pummels Anastasia (Jill Sowerwine) as Svetlana (Tamar Shai) looks on in TossPot's production of 'A Gulag Mouse" at Out North.

Rarely does one experience two indelible pieces of theater in less than one week. But a pair of now come-and-gone plays are sticking with me.

I caught the penultimate performance of "A Gulag Mouse" at Out North during the April 6 blizzard, fit weather for attending a play set in a Siberian prison camp. Arthur M. Jolly's play has all the hallmarks of a masterpiece, setting the audience on the edge of an emotional razor from start to finish, or just about. The ending particularly caught me off guard; it's been characterized by some as a lame cop-out. But in the days that have passed since seeing the show I'm increasingly inclined to think that it puts the rest of the play into context and focus, sending the mind back to earlier ideas and statements and giving them enlarged meaning.

The play benefited from remarkable acting, particularly from Annia Wyndham in the part of the cell boss, Masha, a bitter and brutal person, alternately viciously physical or cunningly negotiative but always violent. She constantly twitched, winced and squirmed -- and made the audience do likewise.

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I attended Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre's "Lear Khehkwaii," a 90-minute abridgement of "King Lear" presented in both English and Gwich'in. Translations were projected on screens behind the actors, but sunlight pouring through the windows at the Alaska Native Heritage Center made it impossible to read them. No matter. The acting -- and familiarity with the original play -- made it easy to follow the story, reset in 19th century Alaska.

Here, too, the acting was good. Allan Hayton in the title role proved excellent. The actor and author from Arctic Village, best known to most Alaskans in the role of Roy Peratrovitch in the movie "For the Rights of All," has been pushing for a play that used Gwich'in for years, said director Tom Robenolt. He shared translation credits with Pete Peter and Marilyn Savage.

The cast included both Native and non-Native actors, a few of whom were to some degree familiar with the language, but hardly all.

More is posted at, where you can also read Stephen Warta's "You Be the Critic" review of Valley Performing Arts' "The Sting." Warta, who also writes for the school paper at UAA's Mat-Su campus, is one of our more faithful submitters. He calls it a "superb" production with "almost universally outstanding acting" and singles out Mat-Su school principal Dave Nufe as bad guy Doyle Lonnegan. He also notes the appearance of former Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg in one of the 20-some roles.

All readers are welcome to send reviews of theater, music, visual arts, dance and so forth to us. Perhaps the best way is to shoot an email to and put "You Be the Critic" in the subject line.


Master classes under way

The Alaska chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing has been presenting workshops featuring well-known local performers this month. Today veteran tenor Michael More will be the presenter from 1 to 3 p.m. Nancy Caudill, fresh from Anchorage Opera's delightful "Pirates of Penzance," will take the rostrum at 6 p.m. on April 21 and Mari Hahn, who directed the very fine chorus in that same production, will have the honors at 6 p.m. on May 5. Each of these classes is taking place in room 124 of the UAA Fine Arts Building and -- the really good news for those who want some professional advice on how to stretch their pipes -- the public is welcome to attend and admission is just $5. More information is available at

Caudill, by the way, is featured with soprano Kate Egan and pianist Juliana Osinchuk at the Anchorage Festival of Music's Spring Soiree this evening, saluting the 200th birthdays of Verdi and Wagner. The program takes place at 7:30 p.m. at a private residence so it's necessary to phone for reservations and directions. Call 276-2465 or email


First Friday feathers

The show-stopper at the First Friday rounds on April 5 may not have been the art, but the enormous bald eagle brought into Arctic Rose Gallery and Art Center on Fifth Avenue by the bird rehab folks. The Gallery is not particularly spacious and, when the raptor spread its wings it could nearly knock paintings off the wall. The eagle didn't seem particularly nervous to be with the crowd in the cozy space, but I was.

The occasion for the bird's visit was the opening of "Palettes in the Park," a show of paintings by more than 20 artists made in Alaska state parks. It includes plein air work executed at sites like the Independence Mine State Historical Park, Chena River State Recreation Area, and Chugach State Park, Potter Marsh, Creamer's Field and Palmer Hay Flats state game refuges. The state's Arts in the Parks events have been facilitating the efforts of plein air painters since 2011. The show will remain on display through April but, when I timidly checked this week, the eagle had left the building.


Grant Panel convenes

The Alaska State Council on the Arts' Grant Panel review meetings for annual operating support grants will be held on Thursday and Friday, April 18-19, at 161 Klevin Street, Suite 102 in Anchorage. Note that this is a change from dates previously announced in error. Starting at 11 a.m. on Thursday the panel will consider annual proposals and take biennial proposals under consideration at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. The meetings are open to the public. Calling 269-6610 or, toll free, 888-278-7424.

Colony gets Grammy honor

Colony High School in Palmer is one of six schools from around the nation to receive a 2013 Grammy Signature Schools Enterprise Award. Each school receives $5,500. The grants go to schools that the Grammy Award organization considered to have excellent music programs despite being "economically underserved." Other schools on the list were from Los Angeles and Compton, Calif.; Spokane, Wash.; Palacios, Texas; and Sahuarita, Ariz.

Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill. was chosen as the 2013 National Grammy Signature School, receiving $10,000 to benefit its music program.


Sealaska gets major grant

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, one of the biggest grant-making organizations in the Pacific Northwest, has made a donation of $500,000 to Sealaska Heritage Institute. The money will help fund construction of the Walter Soboleff Center in Juneau.

Groundbreaking for the center, which will cost $20 million, is scheduled for this year.


Piano idols

Think you have a gift at the ivories? Sign up to vie for the title of Phenom Laureate, aka a grand prize finalist at the World Pianist Invitational Classical Piano Competition. The contest is open to pianists ages 5-29 and includes the chance to perform at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. along with a share in $10,000 in scholarship money.

To enter, go to and follow the registration prompts. Competitors are encouraged to sign up fast as certain age groups are starting to fill up. Also, the deadline is April 20.

A panel of international judges will select finalists in each of five age groups to travel to Washington, D.C. to compete live in the International Competition and Concert.


Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.