PEQUOT LAKES - Jenny Kiffmeyer and Daren Blanck are happy to be going back in time in "Oklahoma!"
Kiffmeyer, who plays Laurey in the Pequot Lakes Community Theatre musical that opens Friday, relishes the opportunity to take a time machine 100 years into the past, when Oklahoma became a state.
"I've often said I should've been born 50 or 60 years earlier," the Baxter actress, 44, said before a rehearsal Nov. 1 at Pequot Lakes High School. "It's a nice escape to go into a different life that's a little more simple, that's a little more planned out for you. Although that's not to say things don't go wrong in places."
Blanck, who plays Curly, teaches history and directs the theater program at Pequot Lakes High School. Last summer, he portrayed famous mail carrier Ben Knebel in a run of shows with the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association.
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"I love history stuff," said the Nisswa actor, 39, who last spring chose "Women of Troy" as the school's one-act. "I always try to bring in the history of the production for my student actors, and I enjoy that sort of production as an actor."
Curly, as described by Blanck, "is typical of that change that happens in the Great Plains as these territories change from cowboy culture to farming and settling. And there's a song in the play that alludes to that (with the line), I'm gonna learn to be a farmer now.'"
Laurey, meanwhile, represents the strong, independent women that were emerging at the turn of the 20th century in the United States.
Laurey, Kiffmeyer said, "is pretty spirited, pretty stubborn. She doesn't think she needs a man, and Curly tries to convince her she does."
Laurey in "Oklahoma!"
Favorite musicals: "My Fair Lady," "Oklahoma!," "The Sound of Music."
Favorite actor: Harrison Ford.
Favorite actress: Audrey Hepburn.
Favorite movie: "The Notebook."
Favorite TV shows: "The Office," "Ghost Hunters."
Favorite book: "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell.
What do you do in your spare time? "I like to bake, and just hang out with my kids." (With husband Ron, she has three children.)
Curly in "Oklahoma!"
Favorite musical: "Les Miserables."
Favorite actors: Jimmy Stewart, Sean Connery.
Favorite actresses: Drew Barrymore, Holly Hunter, Susan Sarandon.
Favorite movies: "The Name of the Rose," "A Walk in the Clouds."
Favorite TV shows: "Star Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Favorite books: History books.
What do you do in your spare time? "I love paddling my canoe, I like to ride bike, I do a little bit of sketching and drawing, and hanging out with my family." (With wife Michelle, he has two children.)
At first, both performers struggled with their characters' Southern accents as they worked from the phonetically written script.
"As you're reading it the first time through, sometimes we couldn't figure out what it was saying until we said it a few times fast," Kiffmeyer said.
But eventually, the leads found a kinship with Laurey and Curly. Kiffmeyer grew up on a farm near Northfield, and Blanck spent time on his grandparents' farm when he was in junior high.
Kiffmeyer, making her PLCT debut, is a longtime fan of the 1955 movie version of "Oklahoma!," and she has been inspired by Shirley Jones' performance.
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"It was the first musical of its kind in that it took a story and then worked the songs into the story, so the songs help tell the story," she said. "It was one of the first musicals I saw on TV."
The actress, whose credits include On Stage Community Theater's "The Sound of Music" and "Annie Get Your Gun," enjoys the old standbys.
"They usually are upbeat and they usually have a strong, positive message that I want to deliver," she said.
Blanck, who has acted in PLCT shows for 14 years, didn't saddle up for "Oklahoma!" as quickly as his co-star. But over the course of rehearsals, the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic grew on him.
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"It wasn't really on my radar in terms of a play I'd like to be a part of," Blanck said. "What I've realized about the play is there's more than one level to it. In some ways it's a cute story; in another way, it's about the hopefulness about the future that every generation has.
"The actual history of Oklahoma, having been Indian Territory, wasn't necessarily that pleasant. But this play is optimistic about the future."
And that attitude is just as valid in 2007 as it was in 1907, Blanck said.
"One of my favorite quotes is from Muppets Take Manhattan' - Peoples is peoples.' And I really believe that. I think people are somewhat the same across time periods and across cultures."
JOHN HANSEN may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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