It’s an adventure in new territory without the risk associated with 19th century arctic exploration.
“Franklin,” Perseverance Theatre’s latest production, is a the two-act play written by Samantha Noble, directed by former Juneauite Hannah Wolf and featuring music from Marian Call. It draws its name and subject matter from the doomed Franklin Expedition.
It makes its premiere this week.
“I’m just so delighted to see these actors at work,” Noble told the Capital City Weekly before a Friday Wednesday evening rehearsal. “The set is out of this world. The music is amazing. I’m so excited for everything.”
The 1845 expedition lead by Captain John Franklin ended with the loss of both the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. A dramatic and horrific re-imagining of the expedition was told in “The Terror” by Dan Simmons, which was recently adapted for TV.
“There’s a little complication because of that, but it’s exciting to have that in people’s minds,” Noble said.
Noble started her project years before the series aired and before the 2016 discovery of the fully preserved HMS Terror.
While research went into “Franklin,” Noble was clear this version of events is very much a fictional imaging of what that led to the ships being lost for centuries and the hunt to recover them.
In “Franklin,” two women, songwriter Kira and researcher Caroline, are both on board a research vessel and drawn to the site where hundreds lost their lives and two ships were wrecked by their respective work.
“As they’re working through their journey, there’s kind of an echo of the past that comes through,” Noble said. “It’s a pretty big topic. I was researching for two or three years.”
Kira and Caroline are the two headstrong women at the heart of the play, and the reason it was brought to Perseverance Theatre.
Perseverance Theatre’s artistic director Art Rotch said a conversation with one of Noble’s teachers at Boston University about the necessity of more works depicting women leading complicated lives led to an introduction to Noble’s play.
“They’re just really interesting characters,” Rotch said.
Wolf described Caroline and Kira as the sort of ambitious and headstrong women who tend to get labeled difficult.
Whether that would be a fair assessment or casual misogyny is debatable.
Michaela Escarcega, who plays Kira, and Victoria Bundonis, who plays Caroline, said they can see it both ways.
“They’re a challenge to work with,” Bundonis said. “Caroline is a very driven woman. She doesn’t want anything to stand in the way. She’s driven just like those explorers were.”
Escarcega, who had to learn to play guitar for her role, said Kira is a young person trying to make an ambitious concept album while also dealing with feelings of inadequacy and traveling unfamiliar places.
“She’s trying to find out who she is,” Escarcega said. “They’re both stubborn.”
Do the time warp again and again
“Franklin” is set in both the recent past of 2014 and the distant past of the 1840s.
Both time periods are depicted extensively and there are 30 jumps between eras during the play.
“I did think to myself, ‘Oh, gosh, someone is going to be so mad at me for this,’” Noble said of writing a work so unstuck in time.
Wolf likened it to a rewarding but challenging puzzle and said the set works well with the jumps.
“The foot prints of the two worlds live on top of each other,” Wolf said.
Former Juneauites Connor Chaney and Skyler Ray-Benson Davis and Zebadiah Bodine of Juneau respectively play Henry Sait, Charles Johnson and David Sims — three of the men involved in the Franklin Expedition.
Bodine, Chaney and Davis said there was extensive dialect work done to help them capture the appropriate accents. They also credited costume designer E.B. Brooks with adding an air of authenticity.
When portraying the ultimately doomed men, Davis said it’s important to keep in mind the idea the characters don’t realize they’re heading to an inevitable frigid demise.
“The same way if you had to do something like ‘Othello’ or ‘Hamlet,’” Davis said. “The characters always have hope.”
Plus, actors said the play isn’t especially dreary despite the subject matter.
“The show is funnier than you might expect,” Chaney said. “It’s a play that’s about adventure. It also talks about the myth around adventure and what adventure is and who gets to talk about adventure.”
Original music by Marian Call is a big part of how “Franklin” tells its story.
“She’s made a wonderful song for the piece,” Noble said. “It’s perfect for the piece.”
The music Kira plays throughout the play is a song Call has been calling “Intrepid/Terror,” and sound designer Lucy Peckham’s compositions set the scene, too.
“It’s kind of creepy, and it doesn’t make sense until you put the chords to it,” Call said.
The plan is to eventually release the song, Call said, but it may have a new, official title at that point.
A lot of thought was put into the music Kira plays during “Franklin.”
Call said a playlist of music a young songwriter would have been listening to in 2014 was created and care was taken to make a track that could credibly fit into a hypothetical concept about an ill-fated 19th century arctic expedition.
The song also plays a major part in creating “Franklin’s” more recent setting to the distant past. Call compared it to the time-leaping Ocarina of Time from “The Legend of Zelda” in that regard.
“You see throughout the play Kira is being influenced by the atmosphere,” Noble said. “You become invested in the story Kira is telling.”
That feeds into one of Franklin’s themes.
“Like a lot of characters on the ship, she’s not listening,” Call said. “I feel like this character kind of leads the way to listening to where she is.”
Collaboration between headstrong individuals and art and science and stopping to accept in put from others are ideas at the heart of “Franklin.”
“What I find fascinating about this show is that it gives you clues to a mystery that’s still going, and it’ll make you think,” Bundonis said. “It’s also a play about looking at things from different perspectives. It’s riveting, and it sits with you.”
Bundonis and Escarcega expect “Franklin” to prompt car ride conversations on the way back from the theater because it both affirms and refutes audience members’ perspectives.
“It’s a show for everyone with a million different points of view,” Escarcega said. “You’ll find your point of view and it’s relatable, and then it’s challenged and that’s great, too.”
Know & Go
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 4 p.m. Sundays. “Franklin” runs Nov. 30-Dec. 16. There is a pay-as-you-can preview Thursday, Nov. 29, and pay-as-you-can performances Dec. 2 and Dec. 6. For Juneau Arts Night, Dec. 5, tickets will be 50 percent off. Sunday, Dec. 2, there will be a post-play talkback with the playwright.
Where: Perseverance Theatre, 914 3rd St., Douglas.
Admission: $30-$39 for adults, $25-$34 for seniors and military, $15-21 for students. Seats can be reserved online at www.ptalaska.org or by calling (907)463-8497. There is strong language in “Franklin” that won’t be suitable for children younger than 12.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.