New Perseverance play explores local love mystery

John Barrymore’s, portrayed by Peter DeLaurier, theatrics are as interesting to Muz, actress Shelley Virginia, and Joe Ibach, actor Mike Peterson, as their simplicity is to him.

A new play titled “Dreaming Glacier Bay” opens tonight at Perseverance Theatre. Based on true events, the play is set on Lemesurier Island near the entrance to Glacier Bay, and involves Hollywood movie star John Barrymore. But what brought Barrymore to our waters?

Check out the above video of John Barrymore playing Larry Renault in the 1933 “Dinner at Eight.”

I asked local film buff Collette Costa if Barrymore was a big deal. She said that in today’s world, Barrymore might be like a Ralph Fiennes or Daniel Day-Lewis stylistically, or a Tom Hanks popularity-wise.

Dreaming Glacier Bay playwright Joel Bennett, during a sneak preview of his show on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska's Energy Desk)
“Dreaming Glacier Bay” playwright Joel Bennett hangs out during a sneak preview of his show Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Just before making “Dinner at Eight” in ‘33, Barrymore motored his yacht — three or four times — from southern California to southeast Alaska to visit Joe and Muz Ibach.

Juneau photographer, filmmaker and playwright Joel Bennett was introduced to the history in the 1970s.

“I was always perplexed by why no one really had done anything with this material. Not even a book,” Bennett said.

Since his first introduction to the mysterious story, Bennett spent time at the Ibach couple’s house, which still stands on the island.

He’s examined photographs, letters and any other evidence he could find to explain Barrymore’s strong interest in either Alaska, or the couple — Joe, or Muz — a woman with a mysterious background as a show business dancer back east.

“I’m pretty proud of the fact that the dialogue I think is a true representation of how they would have spoken and what they would have talked about,” Bennett said.

Thanks to their film work, Bennett says the Barrymores were easy. But re-creating the Ibachs was harder — thankfully he had some experience.

“I actually spent a lot of time with an old Alaska couple here that lived on Admiralty Island — Stan and Ester Price who made Pack Creek famous,” Bennett said. “I knew how they talked. I knew kind of how they lived…you know self-sufficiency, and living simply, appreciating the wilderness, attraction to beauty, a relation to wildlife and birdlife—all the things the Ibachs held dear.”

What really brought Barrymore back to Alaska every year? (Photo by Scott Burton/KTOO)

On the surface, that lifestyle attracted Barrymore — a celebrity entrenched in the 1920s and ‘30s Hollywood scene.

“Because he came from a world of illusion and a world of not knowing who your friends were — driven by money and greed,” Bennett said. “He loved regular people.”

And the most fulfilling part of the process for playwright Bennett?

“For people here, it’s a local story. And to be able to share it with the community is really satisfying to me,” Bennett said. “It means a life and those people won’t be forgotten.”

But were two people living off the grid who had a seemingly loving relationship that interesting? Or was there something else that brought Barrymore up year after year?

You’ll have to watch the play to find out.

Actor John Barrymore (Peter DeLaurier) as Hamlet, in Dreaming Glacier Bay, on Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska's Energy Desk)
Actor John Barrymore, played by Peter DeLaurier, impresses the Ibachs with a scene from “Hamlet,” in “Dreaming Glacier Bay,” on Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
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