by Mike Dunham -- Alaska Dispatch News.
The theatrical cavalcade of Anchorage history continues at Cyrano’s with “Sex, Money, the Political Frontier, and the Boom that went Bust” this week. As part of the Anchorage Centennial Celebration, local playwrights and actors have concocted a series of 10 plays, each encompassing a decade. The decade in focus this weekend spans 1955-1965 and is the first in which the writer (the series is using the term “curator”) was an eyewitness to the events described.
Lael Morgan, 79, drove up the Alaska Highway with her husband, Dodge, in the fall of 1959. A native of Rockland, Maine, she’d been married for two years and never been west of New Hampshire.
“I looked at my in-laws and he looked at his and we decided that a 5,000-mile separation would be just about right,” she said. “But I was terrified. We didn’t have jobs waiting for us or anything lined up. I didn’t know what to expect. But then we got here and you could buy anything and do anything.”
Dodge Morgan found work as the sports editor for the Anchorage Daily News and Lael went to work as the public relations department for the yet-to-be-built Alaska Methodist University, now Alaska Pacific University.
“I’d always wanted to be a writer, but there were no jobs for reporters,” she said. “I volunteered and sent in press releases for all these places and the newspapers took them. At the end of the year, I had more published clips than I could ever have gotten as a reporter.”
Then came the magic moment when she was driving to work and looked up to see that the previously bare Chugach Mountains had turned white overnight. “It was like a wonderful dream. I was so amazed that I drove off the road.”
Since then, despite repeated attempts to leave, she’s been a hopeless Alaskan. “When I go back to the East Coast, it feels like Rikers Island prison,” she said.
The script for Morgan’s play consists of a series of real characters, some as themselves, others played by actors, in person and on screen talking about the city they experienced in those days. One of the characters is Morgan herself. Why not?
“It was all so new,” she said. “I really paid attention to the nuts and the mavericks and the freedom this place gives you.