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Keene State Theatre Opens Season with Selkie

KEENE, N.H. 9/27/01 - Keene State Theatre will open the 2001-02 season with “Selkie,” a play based on a Scottish folktale about seals turning into maidens one night each year.

The award-winning play for families will be presented at 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, Oct. 24-26, in the Main Theatre of the Redfern Arts Center on Brickyard Pond at Keene State College. A 9:30 a.m. performance on Wednesday, Oct. 24, for area school children is sold out; school groups are encouraged to attend the evening performances. The play runs 1 hour and 15 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $7 for the general public; $5 for KSC faculty, staff, students, senior citizens, and youth 17 and under. For tickets, call the box office at 603-358-2168.

“Selkie” is set in the Outer Hebrides, the northwestern Scottish islands, and concerns the myth of selkies - seals that turn into maidens to dance on the shore one night a year on the summer solstice. One maiden is so beautiful that she captures the heart of a young man, who hides her pelt to prevent her return to the sea. The man and maiden marry and the play unfolds years later when we meet their daughter, Ellen Jean. She is an adolescent who is between worlds (the earth and the sea) and doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, especially with other island children who poke fun at her webbed hands.

Ellen Jean meets another island outcast, a homeless young gypsy boy named Tam. They initially taunt each other, then realize they are being hurtful, and eventually make plans to dance at the island’s solstice festival. Complications force them both to explore their own lives further before they are able to join hands at the end of the play.

“I chose this particular play because children at a very young age are aware of stereotypes and trying to fit in,” explains director PeggyRae Johnson, a guest artist from Franklin Pierce College in Rindge. “Most kids go through their early adolescent years in angst, because they try to fit in with a group rather than be themselves.”

“Selkie,” written by Laurie Brooks Gollobin, won a distinguished play award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education for its strong message to youngsters - that each person is special because they are unique. Uniqueness is a very important message that bears repetition especially in light of Columbine and other school shootings by bullied youths, explains Johnson.

“We are supposed to be unique, not all the same. It would be a very boring world if we all fit an average look and belonged to the same groups,” she says.

“Selkie” is appropriate for children in sixth through 12th grades; the actors all use an Orkney dialect, which is difficult for children younger than nine to comprehend. Most audience members should be able to understand the dialect after the first five minutes, just as they would a Shakespearean production, says Johnson.

The dialect also poses a challenge for the Keene State Theatre troupers, but Johnson has assembled an experienced student cast who, she is confident, will be able to transform the stage into an Orkney island.

Paige Lussier of Keene plays Ellen Jean and Christopher Mehmed of Merrimack portrays Tam. Jared M. Ball of West Lebanon and Leah Belanger of Londonderry play Ellen Jean’s father and mother. William Howell of Hancock is Pa, grandfather to Ellen Jean. Stacey Ann Brossia of Dover and Jennifer Jacques of Chicopee, Mass., portray selkies.

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