Providential play: Kenai native to perform one-man show

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tom Atkinson felt called to perform the one-man show, "Arthur and Esther."

Tom Atkinson performs a scene from the pay "Arthur and Esther."

The first time he saw the play he said he thought it was about him, the character was so him he felt he had to act on it.

And that he did.

Atkinson, a Kenai son who now lives in Anchorage, will be presenting the two-act twisted comedy written by Ross Howard, and directed by Holly Carroll, this weekend at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai.

"It's dark, it's got a suicide theme but that's not what it's really about. It's about loyalty and integrity and order required in one's life," Atkinson said. "I think that it's pretty universal so that it will remind most audience members something about their lives."

Arthur, a librarian, sets the stage with a line that explains, "things have gone bad" for him.

His wife, Esther, ran off with the museum director, and after his family's library gets shut down he decides to kill himself with help from a reference book.

Throughout the play, Atkinson said, Arthur bemoans the modern loss of order while exploring deeper themes in his life and relationship.

"It's a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride," he said. "It's not just fluff."

But that's not to say the play does not make for some laughing matter, perhaps uncomfortably so.

The audience will "get a good laugh but they'll wonder if they should be laughing at it when they are laughing at it," he said.

The hour and a half performance, including the brief intermission, is entirely carried by Atkinson with minimal sets and props.

He said it took him awhile to memorize the 24-page monologue of a play and hours of listening to audio recordings of himself reading it but now it's committed to his memory.

"Now I think I'll know it 20 years from now," he said.

And performing this weekend in Kenai will add another dimension to the already complex work.

"It means more than in the other venues because it I'll be seen by a lot of people that I've worked with in theater or maybe people I used to teach with," he said. "It's a little bit more vulnerable than when strangers are seeing it but by the same token it's more gratifying."

To him, drama is about "being vulnerable and being okay with being vulnerable."

He said the opportunity to perform the play took him off guard, when he least expected it -- 14 months after his initial e-mail to the playwright.

At that time he was not ready for such a huge undertaking, but once he accepted it he primed himself for the role.

"There was a real sort of spiritual preparation," he said.

While Atkinson said he was drawn to the play and character, he sees some differences between himself and the control-freak Arthur.

"I share his compulsion for order but not his cowardice," he said.

Chris Cook, executive director for Kenai Performers, said the performances this weekend are especially poignant because they are closing out the season -- and the Old Town Playhouse building. The Kenai performers are moving their operation over to the Hall Quality Builders warehouse in Kenai.

Cook said its nice to have a Atkinson, one of the founding members of Kenai Performers, striking that location.

"Aside from being a delightful human being he is a superb performer," she said. "He is a consummate actor. He is meticulous in the process of stage craft in acting and performing."

The show begins at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday night and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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