"The Spirit of the Valley" is Perseverance Theatre's latest play. (Courtesy Image / Perseverance Theatre)

Sense of play: New production blends message with fun

“The Spirit of the Valley,” the latest live, virtual offering from Perseverance Theatre, deftly hides its vegetables.

A play geared toward younger audiences with a hefty dose of messaging about the importance of environmental responsibility could be a plateful of boiled spinach. Instead, “The Spirit of the Valley” is at least chicken tenders and French fries —warm comfort food for any age, if not the most sophisticated dish.

“The Spirit of the Valley” is children’s entertainment with a stream of jokes steady enough to help its message of environmental stewardship go down easy with younger viewers and enough charm via meta humor, jokes aimed toward older audiences, craftsmanship and cultural flavor to keep a breezy play geared for youngsters engaging for older folks, too.

The play tells the story of two Tlingit twins, Kaash (Shayna Jackson) and Shaa, (Jill Meserve) who find themselves on an adventure following a sudden separation that also ravages their surrounding environment. The siblings seek to both reunite and save the natural beauty of the valley that they love.

Along their journeys, the siblings meet several talking animals and gain insight into themselves as well as the cause of their unexpected calamity.

Samantha Bowling plays Bear in the new Perseverance Theatre play “The Spirit of the Valley.” Bowling said her character displays both bumbling and serious sides during the roughly hour-length play. (Courtesy Photo / Perseverance Theatre.”

Samantha Bowling plays Bear in the new Perseverance Theatre play “The Spirit of the Valley.” Bowling said her character displays both bumbling and serious sides during the roughly hour-length play. (Courtesy Photo / Perseverance Theatre.”

A stammering bear (Samantha Bowling) who might not be exactly what she seems stuck in some flatulent-sounding mud is likely to be a hit with younger audiences, while a weary eagle (Jake Waid) who will stop dropping references to ’70s sort-of rockers the Eagles when hell freezes over will probably resonate the most with adults. A rhyming raven (Skyler Ray-Benson Davis) and convention-bound wolves (Kolan Studi) round out the menagerie.

Erin Tripp plays the Storyteller in the new Perseverance Theatre play “The Spirit of the Valley.” The play’s writer and director Frank Henry Kaash Katasse said Tripp’s role spun out of a summer youth production of the play that Tripp directed. Katasse said stage directions didn’t translate great to a live, virtual medium, so the Storyteller began to take shape. (Courtesy Photo)

Erin Tripp plays the Storyteller in the new Perseverance Theatre play “The Spirit of the Valley.” The play’s writer and director Frank Henry Kaash Katasse said Tripp’s role spun out of a summer youth production of the play that Tripp directed. Katasse said stage directions didn’t translate great to a live, virtual medium, so the Storyteller began to take shape. (Courtesy Photo)

Storyteller (Erin Tripp) keeps the fantastical story slightly more grounded while at least denting, if not always outright breaking the fourth wall.

Despite talking animals, a grand scope and being told as a frame story, “Spirit of the Valley,” does not depict ancient or barely remembered times. Kaash and Shaa compete to best each other’s video game scores, and the contemporary setting was a conscious choice to depict Native peoples and culture as a current-day presence.

Creative use of green screen, costuming and even puppetry gives the grand adventure a memorable and visually compelling look.

[Stage is set for all-ages comedy with a message]

In interviews ahead of the play actors, Frank Henry Kaash Katasse praised the efforts of Josh Lowman for the green screen backdrops that stand in for Perseverance Theatre’s usually excellent set design.

Frank Henry Kaash Katasse is the writer and director of the new play “The Spirit of the Valley.” The all-ages comedy began as something like a writing exercise for Katasse’s wife and kids. It’s his first time writing and directing a full-length play. “This is certainly a different beast than anything I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “It’s been a really fun experience.” (Courtesy Photo)

Frank Henry Kaash Katasse is the writer and director of the new play “The Spirit of the Valley.” The all-ages comedy began as something like a writing exercise for Katasse’s wife and kids. It’s his first time writing and directing a full-length play. “This is certainly a different beast than anything I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “It’s been a really fun experience.” (Courtesy Photo)

It’s easy to see why.

While not a full substitute for a physical set, the green screen goes a long way toward instilling a sense of place and sense of place is a foundational part of “Spirit of the Valley.”

Sound design from Ed Littlefield means “The Spirit of the Valley” sounds interesting, too, with occasional bursts of music that blend traditional sounds with electronic tinge.

“Spirit of the Valley” likely won’t be the single-most compelling play adults in the audience have ever seen, but there’s always touches of creativity and care that keep it not only watchable but enjoyable.

For children, I imagine the play will be a quirky joy ride with more thoughtfulness and touches of home than can be found in just about anything else —save “Molly of Denali” — that can be easily found

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