By Cameron Rasmusson
One of the tricks of good storytelling is finding themes that resonate irrespective of historic time and place.
“Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau,” the latest play from arts organization Pend Oreille Arts Council and theater company Unknown Locals, finds that universal idea in its exploration of humankind’s relationship to the environment. It’s one of the elements that drew Hannah Combs, POAC director of events, and Madeline Elliott, Unknown Locals co-founder, to the play.
“We read the script and thought it told a lot about a story that people might be starting to forget,” Elliott said.
“Walden” tells the story of Henry David Thoreau, the famed American writer, poet, social critic and philosopher, as he spends his final days in his cabin before leaving Walden Pond. The play follows his conversations with his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, as he comes to terms with man’s place in the environment and the realities of developing his ideas.
“(He realizes) if he wants to make his life matter, he has to take it to a larger audience,” Elliott said.
Both Elliott and Combs have plenty of experience planning local productions, with Unknown Locals producing multiple local theatrical projects and POAC sponsoring everything from concerts to the popular annual “Nutcracker” ballet. However, this is the first time the organizations are teaming up on a project. Given the amount of combined talent, they say the collaboration has been fruitful.
“It’s so wonderful to work on a production when you know this and this and this are in the good hands of another party,” Combs said.
“It’s strange to me, because we do many of these things on our own,” added Elliott. “It’s like, ‘Oh! I don’t have to worry about that!’”
The idea first came up when a POAC member recommended that Combs consider that play for a POAC production. Combs asked around for possible partners who could make the project happen and eventually turned to Unknown Locals.
“(Madeline took) the reins … and found a wonderful cast,” Combs said.
In turns playful, funny and serious, “Walden’s” themes are expressed by a talented cast of local actors. Mike Clarke leads as Thoreau, bringing a robust, thoughtful quality to the burgeoning intellectual mind. Seneca Cummings delivers good-natured wisdom as Emerson. Two fictional supporting characters, Joshua Barnett and Rachel Stuers, round out the cast of characters and are portrayed by Cory Repass and Nicole Buratto. Elliott said the actors do a wonderful job delivering the banter-heavy dialogue, which feels remarkably fresh for a play set in the 19th century.
“It doesn’t seem to me to have that awkward stiltedness that (you sometime see),” she said.
With only two nights this weekend to check out “Walden,” be sure to get tickets soon. Showtimes are Friday, Nov. 17, and Saturday, Nov. 18, at the Heartwood Center. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the performance begins at 7 p.m. All ages are welcome. Tickets are $15 for adults, $11 for POAC supporters or $5 for those 18 or younger and can be purchased online at https://artinsandpoint.org/events/performance-series, at several in-town locations or on the night of the show pending availability. Call POAC at 208-263-6139 for more information.
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