Politics of the past explored in ‘The Ticket’
This is the last weekend to see “The Ticket” at Cyrano’s playhouse in downtown Anchorage.
There are only two characters on the stage: two former Republican governors, Walter “Wally” Hickel and Jay Hammond — political adversaries who became friends later in life, although they were philosophically polar opposites. Although both men are now gone, their memories are still fresh for many Alaskans.
Dick Reichman, an Anchorage playwright, spent more than a year listening to stories about Hammond and Hickel, which are reflected in an imaginary conversation between the two men. The entire play takes place in Hickel’s office at the Hotel Captain Cook. The set has an authentic prop, a big globe which sat in the late governor’s office.
The play is set in 1990, just as Hickel ponders a second run for governor. He tries to persuade Hammond to be his running mate, which never happened. That was the year Arliss Sturgulewski won the Republican nomination, but Hickel and the Republican nominee for Lt. Governor, Jack Coghill, hijacked the Alaskan Independence Party ticket and ultimately defeated her.
Throughout the play, Hickel and Hammond joust over their differences about oil development, the environment and the permanent fund. Although the premise of the play is pure fiction, Reichman said he sought to evoke a very different political atmosphere than we have today.
“One of the amazing things about our present election is it’s all personality stuff,” Reichman said. “We barely have time to talk about ideas. These men believed in our democracy. They believed the only way we as a society can progress is to come together under the forum of government – and they disagreed about everything else.”
Although the actors do not physically resemble Hickel and Hammond, they drew a lot of applause and laughter during the show – particularly from one member of the audience, former First Lady Ermalee Hickel.
Matt Miller, who plays her husband Wally, was surprised by her reaction while on stage.
“Character Jay asks my character, Wally, ‘Why are you running?’” Miller said. “I say, ‘My wife Ermalee told me to run and I always listen to her,’ to which Ermalee replied, ‘You’re darn right you do.’ And kept it going.”
Miller said he had the pleasure of being heckled by Ermalee Hickel during two different performances.
Bill Murphy, the Atlanta actor who played Hammond, said it’s rare to have an audience so familiar with the characters.
“In Atlanta, we don’t really refer to our governor by their first name. We’d never call them Nathan. He’s Governor Deal,” Murphy said.
But Alaskans, Murphy said, have a different relationship with their governors.
“Everybody knows them,” he said. “Everybody has a Jay and Wally story.”
And a few of those stories are shared in Reichman’s play, stories aimed at capturing the spirit of these two Alaskan legends.