Hey pallies, this is just so Dinogreat. A play opens this week in Alaska that was inspired by our Dino.....read 'bout it here....or click on the title of this Dinopost to read it in it's original format. You just never know where our Dino is gonna turn up next!
Shooting for the moon
Up-and-coming Alaska poet tries her hand on a full-length play
By SARAH HENNING
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Published: January 27th, 2008 02:16 AM
Last Modified: January 27th, 2008 05:16 AM
The ghost of Dean Martin haunted Arlitia Jones.
The Anchorage poet was trying to write a play about an abused elderly woman and her son, a demolition worker cleaning up the wreckage of a terrorist attack.
But good ol' Dino would not be ignored. Every time Jones tried to write, his voice sneaked in.
"It was like I didn't have control over my mind. It just didn't make any sense: Why Dean Martin?" Jones said. "I had to get rid of him. Dean Martin was ruining everything."
Then, while working one day at her family's butcher shop, C&J Tender Meat Co., she started doodling. "That's why I work for my family; I'm a terrible employee," she said. "I drew two little houses, and a woman standing on her roof hanging up the moon.
"I realized that once someone hangs the moon in a play, anything can happen after that."
Jones sat down at her desk and wrote the play in five days, typing for six or seven hours at a time while Martin wafted from her stereo. Jones rarely left her desk, except to get up and dance along to "That's Amore" or "Sway."
The resulting play, "Sway Me, Moon," will have its premiere Friday at Out North.
The plot follows Angel, who spends his days praying no body parts will roll out from under the concrete slabs he's moving. At night, he rushes home to care for his addled mother, Dolly, who has learned to cope with past spousal abuse by retreating to a hunky-dory fantasy world where she's married to Martin.
Their delicately balanced existence is threatened by both a feud with a neighbor and Angel's romantic interest in a door-to-door saleslady.
This is Jones' first full-length play to be produced.
"You know, it's so stressful working on a play, everyone's staying up late and all that, but I'm always reminding myself to stop and take a look at what's around me and it's just amazing, what these people are doing," Jones said. "It's already a success in my mind because it's been such a good experience creating it."
JOURNEY TO THE STAGE
Jones is what you'd call an accidental playwright.
In 1998, she earned a master's degree in poetry from UAA and soon after became a poetry instructor there.
Publisher's Weekly called her 2001 poetry collection, "The Bandsaw Riots," a notable debut. Garrison Keillor read from her work on "The Writer's Almanac."
At the same time, she realized that some of her poems were reading more like character studies. "I thought, 'You know, maybe I'm a playwright.'?"
What she knew about the theater world could've fit in an ink well, so she took a playwriting class. But she was shy and unsure how to get her plays on stage.
That changed when she was invited to take part in the first Overnighters, an annual theater event where 10-minute plays are written, rehearsed and staged in 24 hours.
"I thought it'd be like a barbecue in someone's backyard, and then it turns out it's at UAA's black box theater and all these great actors are there and I'm sweating bullets. I'm terrified," she said. But she said she couldn't back out or she would have looked like a total chicken.
For awhile, the only plays Jones got produced were Overnighters. Then in 2007 her one-act play, "Grand Central and 42nd," was chosen for the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play festival, hosted by the largest play publishing company in North America.
She won a spot in the top 10 -- the only playwright not from New York or Los Angeles to do so.
"She's a more colorful writer in terms of imagery and metaphor," said "Sway Me, Moon" director Schatzie Schaefers. "Linda Benson (Dolly) said when she highlighted her lines, it read like a poem."
The transition from writing for readers and writing for the theater has been a challenge.
"My second Overnighters play was called 'Sharkers,' and I described the opening scene at this bar where there's a big ship's wheel and a harpoon and named off 20 other really bizarre props. I just didn't know better," she said. "No one said anything, but at the next Overnighters, Shane Mitchell got up and gave a lecture to the writers where he said 'Don't have an insane prop list that includes a ship's wheel and a harpoon... OK, Arlitia?'?"
Jones said she's also been guilty of writing too many stage directions for the actors and is still getting the hang of theater's technical aspects.
"She's still learning the practical elements. Like in one scene, she'll have Dolly put the moon on the top of the roof, then in the next scene it's gone, then in the next scene it's back," Schaefers said. "I don't think it occurred to her right away that we'd have to have a tech person behind the curtain adding and removing the moon for the whole show."
"Sway Me Moon" has just a few autobiographical threads. Jones said her grandmother became increasingly confused as she grew older, often forgetting about or denying hurtful memories.
Anchorage director and actress Linda Benson wanted to play Dolly because "juicy parts for old ladies are hard to come by."
"Obviously she's a very abused and neglected woman, and her high romantic hopes that she had when she was 18 disintegrated when her husband came back from the war," Benson said. "I think in bad times she goes off into la-la land with Dean Martin. ... Yet at times she's this delightful, motherly woman."
Jones said she wanted the Dolly character to bring up questions about reality versus fantasy. "Is pretending sometimes necessary for survival? I think sometimes it is," she said.
As her son, the Angel character (played by Dean Williams) is worried and frustrated by Dolly's imaginary world, so he lashes out: "Why don't you pretend that, Ma? I'm a banker and we're both rich, and you ain't nuts and I ain't sick of you. How's that? Pretend that."
It's not just his home life that's aggravating him: Angel's demolition crew is cleaning up after an unnamed terrorist attack in an unspecific location.
"I didn't make it 9/11 partly because I haven't been to the site and I don't know the specifics of that place, and partly because I think it's going to happen again," Jones said. "Being vague brings in all the back story of terrorism, like Oklahoma City, and lets me address violence and terrorism in general, instead of getting into politics about who hates whom."
Angel also sees his father's violent tendencies in himself and feels powerless to stop them. Jones said making Angel both flawed and empathetic was a struggle.
"It's been a big lesson for me as a playwright," she said. "Do you know how much I love Angel? He breaks my heart and I want him to have a happy life.
"But I realized at some point that I can't save him. If I save him, I'll be lying. But if I just put a nice guy up there, the audience will know that's fake. That's TV. And I don't write for TV ... do I?"
Find Sarah Henning online at adn.com/contact/shenning or call 257-4323.
SWAY ME, MOON will be presented by Three Wise Moose Productions at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 17, with a preview performance at 7 p.m. Thursday, at Out North, 3800 Debarr Road. Tickets cost $18 online, $20 at the door, $14 preview. (279-3800, www.outnorth.org)