On Stage

Deception Pass

Getting over the bridge

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ghosts, murder, familial estrangement, dreams and memories all make appearances in Deception Pass: An American Story, but don’t get the wrong idea. This is not a play without hope.

“This is a play about cycles,” playwright Kamarie Chapman says. “Cycles of nature and war. Cycles of family and heritage. The year is 2003 and our hero, Prudence Isaac, returns home to attend the funeral of a man she considers to be her father. Returning home is not always the easiest thing, and even worse when your family is shrouded in a mystery of epic proportions. Sometimes, you just have to build a bridge and get over it.


The mysteries Chapman speaks of concern both the past and present—and also include the telling of tales based on actual historical events that took place in the area. Questions about how Prudence’s mother was brutally murdered come to light, and ghosts haunting the Deception Pass bridge from Whidbey Island to the mainland are, through dreams, trying to tell Prudence something important.

Chapman, an adjunct theater arts professor at Western Washington University, wrote Deception Pass while she was a graduate student at the University of New Mexico. She says it took about nine months of intensive writing (and rewriting) to get it finished, and notes there are still a few scenes she’d like to polish to perfection.

Although she was minimally involved with rehearsals for the play—which was directed by Deb Currier and features a cast and crew sourced from the university’s theater and dance department—Chapman says she didn’t want to distract from Currier’s vision, and thus didn’t see the production in its entirety until last weekend.

“It looks and feels a lot different from the last time I saw it,” Chapman says. “And I think that as I have done different things and can now process new information about the play, my vision of what the play should be has changed—which is really cool. This version is a very honest portrayal of the story and characters in a beautiful setting. And it resonates with my original intentions.”

Chapman points out that the elements of Asian theater Currier integrated into Deception Pass through the characters of the ghosts known as the Moon Sisters were exciting to see, and allows that, even though she wrote the thing, there were a couple welcome surprises she hadn’t been expecting.

With another five performances on the roster at WWU’s Performing Arts Center Mainstage, audiences still have plenty of chances to get in on the action, which Chapman promises will not only entertain, but also enlighten.

“It’s an interesting story [featuring] historical events that happened around the islands so many of us have had as a major part of our lives living here,” Chapman says. “It’s culturally and contextually a story told from a Pacific Northwesterner in a hauntingly beautiful place. And usually people walk away from the play having learned a couple things about the area they didn’t know. Heck, there are things I didn’t know until I wrote the play and had to do some research.”

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