Franklin,” like its female protagonists, is complicated and ambitious.
However, unlike the driven characters at the show’s core, “Franklin” is enjoyable to engage with and spend time with.
The latest production in Perseverance Theatre’s 40th season is the premiere run of a play written by Samantha Noble and directed by Hannah Wolf. It is simultaneously set in the mid 1840s and 2014, and it is told through dozens of time jumps.
The lost expedition of English Captain John Franklin gives “Franklin” its title, and the expedition’s wrecked ships give a trio of 2014 characters a goal.
Among the modern-day searchers are Kira, a millennial singer-songwriter with a grant to board a research vessel, who is working on a concept album about the Franklin Expedition. Her foil is Caroline, an Ahab-like researcher who has been hunting for the expedition’s ships for a solid decade.
Kira, played by Michaela Escarcega, is a chatterbox and prone to jokes. Caroline, played by Victoria Bundonis, is a single-minded, hard-nosed researcher.
The two women clash almost immediately and fall into a spiral of snark and mean-spirited false competition that feels uncomfortable while being understandable. Caroline and Kira want the same thing, but they’re fundamentally different people at different points in their life with different values.
Although both can agree John Franklin and colonial expeditions were “inherently problematic.”
Bundonis gives her character’s obsession a palpable fire and Escarcega imbues Kira with a hefty does of creative self-doubt that explains her character’s need to fill silence with words or music.
Kira’s composition heard throughout the play is courtesy of Juneau singer-songwriter Marian Call. Other sonic touches were added by sound designer Lucy Peckham to great effect. “Franklin” includes a chorus of ship groans and a howling wind that will make audience members feel cold if they’re sensitive to those sorts of sounds.
On board the research vessel, Caroline and Kira are joined by easygoing Brett, played by Travis Morris, who serves as a go-between for the two women.
Morris is also one of the stands of connective tissue between timelines as he also plays the at-first similarly relaxed sailor John Handford. Morris pulled off the double duty and requisite accent changes excellently during Saturday’s show.
Another connection between worlds: Both sets of characters cuss like sailors. “Franklin” isn’t particularly dirty, but a handful of Carlin’s seven words pepper character’s speech for flavor.
Handford’s fellow sailors on the ill-fated 1845 expedition are the cantankerous Charles Johnson played by Skyler Ray-Benson Davis, who depicts Johnson as a menacing professional dead-set on following protocol.
David Sims, played by Zebadiah Bodine, and his lifelong friend Henry Sait, played by Connor Chaney, round out the crew of the HMS Terror that audiences meet.
The dynamic between the four sailors, particularly comic relief courtesy of Bodine and Chaney makes a doomed descent into the gaping white maw of arctic madness fun and later gripping to watch.
Chaney, in his first professional role with Perseverance Theatre, is particularly entertaining as the irrationally optimistic and constantly joking Sait.
Even as the Terror is stuck in place by ice and playful camaraderie begins to curdle, Chaney’s perpetually in-over-his-head bookworm is a highlight.
His friendship with Bodine’s more stoic Sims also gives the story of the poorly prepared sailors emotional depth.
As the plots of the two expeditions progress, they dovetail thematically.
Ice thaws between the passengers about the research vessel, and the sailors are presented with opportunities to move forward.
As both groups of arctic explorers progress, past actions come back with significant consequences, and the last 20 or so minutes of the 150-minute play are a tense dash toward discovering who, if anyone can survive in one timeline, and whether collaboration is enough to find a wreck lost to time.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.