Hank the Cowdog, play by Leif Danielson, expounds on how much he dislikes Nellie the cat, played by Eli Butler, earlier this week in a rehearsal of "Scenes from Hank the Cowdog," a one-act play that will be part of "4 Fun," a show of comedy on-acts put on this weekend by the Kenai Performers.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
"Diverse" is probably the best word to describe the Kenai Performers' show this weekend.
In act one, Hank the Cowdog faces a lonely porcupine, cowardly sidekick and pesky cat, among other challenges, as head of ranch security. In act two, singles looking for love demonstrate various approaches to striking up conversation. Act three takes the audience into a living room where a married couple struggles against their attention-sucking TV set. Finally, in act four, a king and queen scheme a way to get their daughter, who possesses a less-than-storybook level of beauty, married off to the last prince they can find.
Confused? That's nothing compared to the show the group will put on the following weekend, where acts switch from two women bickering in a bar, an Alzheimer's patient taken by his wife to the Alaska Bush away from the stress of the city, a woman who's psychosis challenges ideas of reality and an actor willing to bare his soul and more to get ahead in the theater.
Kathleen Knowlton, right, tells Susie, played by Peggy Jones, how hard it is to care for her husband, played by Bill Gronvold, now that he has Alzheimer's, in a rehearsal for "Recital," which will be performed next weekend as part of "On Edge" one-acts.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
The plots do jump around quite a bit from act to act, but that's the appeal of the types of shows the Kenai Performers are putting on collections of one-act plays.
The shows run this weekend and next, with four family friendly comedies this weekend and four edgy shows next weekend.
The one-act format allows for more variety than a typical play. Since each one-act is about 30 minutes or less, the audience is exposed to four different subjects, plots, conflicts, characters and resolutions for the time and money it would take to watch a full-length show. Each one-act is directed by a different person, so their tastes in scripts adds to the variety of the shows.
"I'm excited about some of the things people are trying," said Carol Ford, a Kenai Performers director. "There's such variety and depth. It's everything you'd want to have in a variety of shows."
This weekend's show consists of all comedies, but even in that vein they range from a children's musical "Scenes from Hank the Cowdog," written by John R. Erickson and directed by Teresa Danielson; an academic exploration of what it takes for strangers to hit it off called "English Made Simple," written by David Ives and directed by Carol Ford; "Captive Audience" a quirky commentary on the prevalent role of TV in American society written by David Ives and directed by Jamie Nelson; and a mistaken-identity comedy of errors laced with sarcasm and droll wit called "The Ugly Duckling" by A.A. Milne and directed by Ken Duff.
Sarah Shoemaker and Jamie Nelson practice hitting it off, and not, in "English Made Simple."
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Next week's shows have a wider mix of styles that, because of their language, situations or suggestive natures, are better suited for adults. "A Perfect Analysis Given By a Parrot," by Tennessee Williams and directed by Charlotte Legg, is part comedy, part drama when two friends end up stranded and broke in a bar. "Recital," written and directed by Bruce Schirmers, is the heartwarming and heartbreaking story of a woman taking her Alzheimer's-stricken husband home to the Alaska Bush to better protect and care for him. "Naomi in the Living Room," by Christopher Durang and directed by Ellee Ernst, is a psychological drama centered around one woman's psychosis. The show is rounded out with a comedy, "The Shock of Recognition," by Robert Anderson and co-directed by KatieAnne Hansen and Carol Ford, about an argument over whether it's time for male nudity in the theater.
The one-acts are the culmination of a directing workshop Ford has been teaching for the past several weeks.
"That's what the class did, give people a chance to try things they wouldn't otherwise do and for the audience to see it," Ford said. "... They're very enjoyable and thought-provoking and maybe even disturbing but in a way that, hopefully, will make them think."
Participants could learn from Ford's experience and try their hands at directing. The seven fledgling directors who wanted to give it a try worked through the process of directing a show with Ford's guidance. The workshop covered several facets of putting on a show with the Kenai Performers, from the directing aspects of choosing a script, holding auditions, blocking and conducting rehearsals, to the more business-related duties of making a budget, lining up volunteers and getting the word out about performances.
"For my purposes, I thought it went exceedingly well," said Ken Duff, who is directing "The Ugly Duckling" this weekend. "I learned some things I didn't know, and I'm doing something I hadn't done before."
From left, the Chancellor, played by Robert Peterson, and King and Queen, played by Allen Auxier and Terri Burdick, rehearse "The Ugly Duckling," which will be performed this weekend.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
The process was fun and frightening, Duff said.
"It vacillated between, 'Oh my god, I don't know what I'm doing, this will never work' and, 'This is so much fun to do,'" he said.
Duff's show is about a plain princess in need of a prince and her parents' scheme to ensnare one. Duff said the quality actors he was able to cast made his first attempt at directing go smoother than it could have.
Still, he was surprised at the nuances involved in polishing a show.
"Even how one word can change the meaning of a line," he said.
Duff took the class because directing a one-act play was a way to get his feet wet before jumping into his goal of putting on "Bus Stop," by William Inge. He said he's learned a lot from this experience to get him started in his next play, but that he still has much to learn.
"Oh heavens no. It's a constant learning kind of thing," he said. "Not only learning directing, but learning how to direct with the Kenai Performers."
Duff and his fellow classmates are the reason Ford put on the workshop to train new directors so they can go on to direct other shows with the Kenai Performers and help the group offer a full season of plays.
"Even if only half (of the directors from the class) still do it, we'd still have a bunch of wonderful directors from this," Ford said. "And that's exciting to see that people we didn't even know were interested are not only interested, but they're doing a great job.
"We have the talent and energy and depth in Kenai Performers in terms of being able to really open up a fantastic varied season."
The collection of comedy one-acts will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Old Town Playhouse behind the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. The collection of edgy plays will be performed at 7 p.m. May 6 and 7 and at 3 p.m. May 8.
Tickets are $10 for general admission and $8 for members. Annual membership in the Kenai Performers is $25 and allows people to buy reduced-price tickets and have input into the group's choice of shows. Tickets are available at Charlotte's in Kenai, River City Books in Soldotna and at the door. To become a member of the Kenai Performers, call Ford at 776-8308
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