After a one-year hiatus, “The Real Lewis and Clark Story (or How Finns Discovered Astoria)” is back for its ninth show at Astor Street Opry Company. The play will run Friday, March 29, through Saturday, April 20.
“The Real Lewis and Clark Story” is one of three melodramas the Astor Street Opry Company stages regularly. The show pulls characters from the company’s other melodramas like Krooke, Sneake, Mama and the sturdy sisters.
“It’s a semi-historical viewpoint of the expedition,” said the show’s director, Jayne Osborn.
The first two acts follow Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in St. Charles, Mo., as they get ready to head west.
The third act leaps 18 months into the journey. Krooke is still the bad guy, and, for generational accuracy, it is Krooke’s great-great-grandfather who leads Lewis and Clark on the Corps of Discovery in hopes that he will get rich.
“When he finally figures out that all he is getting are maps and journals he loses his mind,” Jayne said. “It’s hysterical!”
An ASOC production wouldn’t be the same without Mama trying to marry off her daughters. The “sturdy women” are pushing 40 and follow the Corps of Discovery to find husbands.
“There’s a lot of women’s power in this show, too,” Osborn said. “Miss Jaynie Barnes is the pub owner in Act Two. She is a very capable woman with her own business and doesn’t put up with crap.”
The show takes another leap when they finally make it to the coast. Meanwhile, the Park Ranger, played by Patricia Von Vintage, communicates with the audience to keep the story as historically accurate as possible.
The show strays from a strict historical retelling to stay loyal to Astoria’s Scandinavian heritage. “All the characters are all Finnish, Norwegian or Scandinavian,” said Stephanie Osborn, the director’s assistant.
“I think it’s one of the silliest ones I’ve seen of the three melodramas we do,” Jayne said. “It makes me laugh the hardest.”
As opening night approaches, ASOC has had to meet several challenges.
“It’s been hard to have a full cast,” Jayne said. “It’s also really hard to find musicians — they’re just expensive.”
“We’re a community theater ...,” she continued. “It’s not a job you can live on, but it’s a great thing for the community to have a community theater. We have a home, a building, and we are trying to buy it and keep it. We keep doing these shows to maintain ourselves. The history of the Astor Street Opry Company is so big — it’s 35 years.”
The company has especially been struggling since Astor Street stalwart Bill Carr passed away the day after Christmas.
“He was just gone,” Jayne said. “It seems like the past three months everything has come back to, ‘Well, Bill died,’ because he did everything here. He kind of ran the place, so there’s a learning curve going on here. We’re trying to fill his shoes with about four different people.
“We all miss him very much. He directed, stage managed, he was our tech guy, he was hanging lights, running lights, teaching ... He is sorely missed,” she added.
It has been difficult for the company to recruit people committed to staying. They have begun to rely on people who haven’t done certain jobs, and they have relied on youth in the children’s theater to play roles in the adult theater as well.
She said the children’s theater gets kids excited about theater in general, and by the time they are old enough, they can join the adult theater.
“We’re raising some kids up who like doing it, and who want to be here,” Jayne said. “They are focused on what they are doing, and they do a really good job.”
Osborn said she hopes the children’s theater will inspire children to continue performing, so they can continue the legacy of community theater in Astoria.
“This is a family establishment — behind the scenes, onstage, everything — and it is something that is magic. It works,” she said. “And it sometimes brings tears to our eyes to see how well things are pulled together, and it ends up being a big family — including little families in the family — and that’s how it happens.”