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The Pac tackles classical literature with 'Peer Gynt'

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By Becca Owsley

“It’s really exciting,” Bart Lovins, director of the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center, said of the theater’s first attempt at a non-musical pro-am production.

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First time out they will tackle Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt.”

Ibsen is mostly known for deep drama like “A Doll's House,” Lovins said.

“The things we had to read in high school and college and hated,” he said.

But this piece is different from anything Ibsen ever wrote. Lovins said “Peer Gynt” is one of Ibsen’s earlier works. A five-act play written entirely in verse, it leaps back and forth in time and into imaginary worlds. In the 1800s that was particularly hard to stage.

It also calls for 300 people and major scene and costume changes. It’s so involved that when a town in Norway does an annual production each year half of the city is involved, Lovins said.

“So he basically wrote an unproduceable play,” Lovins said.

When it was first produced, Edvard Grieg wrote incidental music for the play. The production bombed but Grieg’s music survived.

The whole production was such a failure that Ibsen swore he’d never do anything in verse or fantastical again. Ibsen later became the father of contemporary drama, Lovins said.

This version was produced by Lovins in New York the year before he came to the PAC, which is inside John Hardin High School. It was well reviewed in New York.

“It’s playful, original, accessible and thoroughly contemporary; yet it’s entirely respectful of the material; dazzling clear and liberally and thoughtful abridged for a 2001 audience,” nytheatre.com said.

The production being staged at PAC will be similar to the New York production.

Lovins’ production has been paired down to two hours and a seven-member cast will play more than 70 roles.

“This is probably the most exciting, fun, heartwarming, hysterical production we’ve done in a really long time,” Lovins said.

He said the actors “chew on a juicy piece of steak” and have fun with it.

In the production, everyone is in pajamas because it is surrealistic and told in a dreamlike state. The imagery in props and scenery are based on surrealist painter Rene Magritte’s work.

“This is one man’s journey to discover who he is,” Lovins said adding that Gynt is the common man and a reflection of a part of ourselves, good and bad.

“On top of that it’s equal parts heartwarming and hysterical, it’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and Monty Python and masks and a little puppetry and Elvis Presley,” Lovins said. “It’s all these things wrapped up in a big gumbo of a show.”

Because it takes place in a dream world, the production has room to explore.

“You’ll never see this play done again, probably, it’s so rarely put on stage,” Lovins said.

He believes the cast of locals adds a lot to the production and hopes people come out to support “local folks” in a brand new endeavor.

The cast is made up of theater graduates and area theater veterans.

Justin Hornback is the youngest cast member and a University of Louisville graduate. Eric Pope has acted professionally in Florida and Pennsylvania and is now a part of the PAC staff.

Stacey Ford Prater stepped into a role after the original actress bowed out because of a pregnancy. Prater, who was once in theater with Lovins as Western Kentucky University, has not been on stage in 15 years.

Dee and Jeff Corkran are well known in area theater for their work at the Hardin County Playhouse.

Aaron Taylor, technical director at the PAC, and Sarah Taylor, drama coach at Central Hardin High School, are also in the cast.

None of the performers are Hardin County school students but they can be found on the technical staff. For many of the students, it is their first exposure to a non-musical performance, Lovins said.

“It’s great to let them see other forms of the performing arts other than the musical that we are so accustom to,” Lovins said.

“Peer Gynt” is the stepping stone to more dramatic theater to come, Lovins said.

Plans are to do more theater based on classic literary works like Shakespeare and Moiré — adapted for a contemporary audience. 

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

Summary of “Peer Gynt” from www.nytheatre.com.
Peer Gynt is the proud, eager, good-for-nothing son of a poor farm woman. Rather than work, Peer spends his days dreaming and making up fanciful adventures, becoming something of a laughingstock among his neighbors. As the play opens, Peer's mother tells him that his one-time girlfriend is about to be married to someone more respectable; Peer crashes the wedding and has a final tryst with the girl. He then meets and falls instantly in love with the beautiful Solveig and then he escapes from the village in search of fame and fortune.
The remainder of the play recounts Peer's adventures on what turns out to be a lifelong quest. His travels take him, most famously, to the hall of the Mountain King and also to various forests, seas and cities all over Norway and the world. Peer does battle with enemies both mortal and magical, but none is as dangerous as his final struggle for his own soul. Peer's love for his mother and for his faithful Solveig eventually help redeem him.

Cast
Justin Hornback
Eric Pope
Stacey Ford Prater
Dee Corkran
Aaron Taylor
Jeff Corkran
Sarah Taylor

If you go
Performances of “Peer Gynt” are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center at John Hardin High School, 384 W.A. Jenkins Road, Elizabethtown. Tickets are $5.
Contact (270) 769-8837 or go to www.thepac.net for more information.