I admit, when I heard that Dick Reichman had written a play about a fictitious conversation between two of Alaska's most illustrious former governors, I had trouble imagining how that would play out.
But forces were moving me toward Cyrano's. Cliff Groh at Nerd Nite on Wednesday, had highlighted the different visions of the Permanent Fund between Hickel and Hammond, and I'm reading Hammond's Bush Rat Governor for my book club this month. Seeing this play seemed inevitable. The world premiere was Friday night and so we saw the second performance.
And it turned out to be a wonderful evening. The dialogue is a quick and witty serving of non-stop delicious bonbons* about Alaska politics, about public service, about ego, about growing old, and about friendship, to name a few. The enjoyment of the play comes from the conversation between the two characters, played by Outside William S. Murphy and Matt K. Miller.
The 'plot' is just a device for getting them together. But if you want to see this play with no hints at all, skip the next paragraph. And the actors were superb, though it seemed to me a couple of times they almost lost control of a couple of the words, but they did it so seamlessly I can't be sure.
The play begins with Hammond arriving at Hickel Captain Cook Hotel office. He's been summoned by Hickel, who's not at all sure Hammond will show. Republican Hickel tells him he's going to run as an Alaska Independent, against the Republican nominee Arliss Sturgulewski, for another term as governor and that Jack Coghill is going to be his running mate. Unless . . .
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This is a terrific Alaskan play. I added Alaskan there because it was written by an Alaskan about Alaskan figures, but it's really a universal play that happens to have Alaska as its setting. Even if you know nothing about Alaska politics or about Hickel and Hammond, it's an interesting political flirtation between two men who have feuded in the past, approach the world very differently, yet ultimately have an unexpected affection for each other. One of the characters is self aware and comfortable with himself, while the other needs a late run for governor to 'keep in the game.' There's a lot of bluster and affection as they learn about each other and themselves. It's serious, good theater.
But for Alaskans, there's the added factor that these are two former governors and most of the issues they discuss are still current today, 26 years after this imagined conversation.
Adding to the juiciness was the after theater discussion with someone who knew them both. Last night's discussant was Sen. Johnny Ellis. Ellis was the valedictorian at his Bartlett High graduation when he first met Hammond who was the other speaker, which led to Ellis working on Hammond's reelection a year or two later.
If I understood it correctly, there will be guests after each performance, including Arliss Sturgulewski, whom Hickel stole the gubernatorial election from in that 1990 election.
There were also some luminaries in the audience including former Anchorage Mayor Jack Roderick and former Alaska attorney general John Havelock.
So, yes, this is a strong endorsement for everyone in or around Anchorage this month to get tickets for a lively and entertaining evening.
*Bonbons might imply light and insubstantial and perhaps appetizers might be a better word to use there because it would imply warming you up for something more filling. It's an entertaining play, not deep history. But Reichman (and Paul Brown who helped with this and was there last night) offer us the broader themes that usually get missed in the contemporary reporting of events. So, feel free to substitute appetizer, and after you see the play, you can read more about these two fascinating men. You can even watch Brown's movie on Hickel which is available