Paul Morin directs actors at the Kenai Performers’ black box theatre on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 in Soldotna Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Paul Morin directs actors at the Kenai Performers’ black box theatre on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 in Soldotna Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Poetry, history and murder

Kenai Performers takes on T.S. Eliot in its latest show

The Kenai Performers will don robes and mitres when they take to the stage this Friday for the opening night of “Murder in the Cathedral.” The work, which director Paul Morin described as a “liturgical, give-and-take poem,” tells the true story of the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket in 1170, and is one of American poet T.S. Eliot’s most famous works.

While the playbill will provide viewers with some historical context surrounding the murder of Thomas Becket, Morin said it wouldn’t hurt for people to do a quick preliminary Google search on Thomas Becket or to even check out a copy of the play from the library to help orient themselves prior to seeing the show.

Because the structure of the work is so unique, Morin said his directing style has been very collaborative — as much his interpretation of the work as that of the actors.

“People have just taken that and they’ve run with it,” Morin said of the cast. “They’ve made so much of what the audience is gonna see.”

Most important, Morin said, is that Eliot’s work, despite being grim in nature, leaves viewers with a sense of hope for the future, which is what makes his work stand out from others.

“It’s just been wonderful because so much of what this play has to offer is, like, that hope, that looking beyond,” Morin said. “That’s exactly what we need at this time, as we’re trying to recover from a global pandemic.”

The show uses intentional lighting and chorus music to further set the scene. Music director Rosemary Bird said that in addition to performing the music directly called for by the script, they added opening and closing performances and matched the style to what would have been performed in a 12th century cathedral.

“We supply the music that would be typical of the timeframe of the play and it gives it a certain authenticity,” Bird said. “I mean, it’s a Catholic play, so the music is Latin and the music is chant, for the most part.

Amy Burton, who plays one of the Women of Canterbury, said that for her, being a part of the Kenai Performers is a family affair and that it has been a great way to stay connected during the pandemic. Burton’s two oldest children, her husband and her brother-in-law are all part of the show’s cast.

“It’s been really good to have a group of people that we’re meeting with regularly, in order to make it through the crazy, like isolation season,” Burton said.

Mark Burton, who plays Thomas Becket, said that while Eliot took some creative liberties in his interpretation of the murder, for the most part it is very historically accurate.

“It’s just a very interesting and rich story,” Burton said.

Morin said he first read the play last year and knew he wanted the Kenai Performers to put it on. The show was originally supposed to run the first week of December, however, it was delayed due to a surge in community transmission of COVID-19.

“I don’t think we realized how intense things were going to be once the pandemic hit full force,” Morin said. “And so we had to … adapt over time.”

In addition to holding some rehearsals over Zoom, everyone in the show is tested for COVID upon arriving at the theater, which is located on Kalifornsky Beach Road. The number of in-person attendees has also been scaled back to 30, with members of the audience also required to wear masks. A livestream of the performance will also be offered.

“I’m really thrilled that we were able to finally perform this and that we have people who are willing to come and see it,” Morin said. “So yeah, it’s really exciting.”

“Murder in the Cathedral” has 7 p.m. showings on Feb. 19, 20, 26 and 27, as well as 2 p.m. showings on Feb. 21 and 28.

Tickets for “Murder in the Cathedral” must be purchased online at kenaiperformers.org/buy-tickets. Both in-person and livestream tickets cost $20. Viewers who opt to livestream a showing will be sent a private link to watch the show in real time.

More information about the show and about Kenai Performers can be found at kenaiperformers.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Actors with the Kenai Performers rehearse “Murder in the Cathedral” on Monday, Feb. 15 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Actors with the Kenai Performers rehearse “Murder in the Cathedral” on Monday, Feb. 15 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Mark Burton portrays Thomas Becket at a rehearsal of “Murder in the Cathedral” on Monday, Feb. 15 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Mark Burton portrays Thomas Becket at a rehearsal of “Murder in the Cathedral” on Monday, Feb. 15 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Actors portraying the Chorus of the Women of Canterbury rehearse on Monday, Feb. 15 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Actors portraying the Chorus of the Women of Canterbury rehearse on Monday, Feb. 15 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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