Gaston, the antagonist in the play “Beauty and the Beast,” is the caricature of narcissistic, overconfident and self-absorbed machismo. He is adored by the fawning Silly Girls, affirmed by his clumsy sidekick, Lefou, and followed to the rousing climax by the village people. But the lovely Belle rejects him, finding more depth and manliness in the outwardly grotesque Beast, who was transformed into his sorry state by an enchantress posing as a crone.
Jon Bartel, who plays Gaston in the Kodiak Arts Council production, found himself in a rather awkward position as he took on this role. Not only is the arrogant Frenchman light years removed from Bartel’s own character, but the lady who shuns his brazen advances on stage is none other than his wife, Trisha.
“Beauty and the Beast,” slated for March 4-6, is a fun, cartoonish musical that showcases the talents of local thespians, dancers and musicians.
Many of the melodic, romantic tunes are sung by Belle and the Beast, played by Dave Human. Jon’s songs are humorously melodramatic, full of silly bravado.
Some of the play’s funniest moments occur when Gaston proposes to Belle in a song appropriately entitled “Me.”
“It’s fun playing Gaston,” said Jon, who in real life is a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. “It wasn’t easy at first because I don’t consider myself to be an arrogant person. I’m having to tap my inner jerk.
“What makes this production a little more difficult is that everyone has to over-animate in order to (convey the cartoonish character) and make it as realistic as possible for the audience.”
Trisha finds something in common with her character, who opens act one by singing “Little Town, it’s a quiet village. Every day, like the one before.”
“There’s something about being a Coast Guard wife; you’re always in a new town,” Trisha said. “You feel like you don’t quite fit in until, one day, you find your niche.”
When it comes to fitting into character, Trisha doesn’t have to leap as far as her husband does. However, her biggest challenge is finding her voice and pitch.
Many will be surprised to learn that Trisha is hearing impaired.
“I started noticing hearing loss when I was in kindergarten,” she said. “It was affecting my learning ability.”
She was diagnosed with bilateral chloesteotoma, a malfunction in both ears. A tumor had started growing on the inside of the ear. There was deterioration of inner ear parts, including the ear drum in her left ear.
Through the years, Trisha has had numerous surgeries including the removal of the mastoid, the projection of the temporal bone behind the ear.
“When people are talking behind you, you hear through the mastoid,” Trisha explained.
Once Trisha was equipped with hearing aides, she heard new sounds — the chirping of birds, the crunch of snow beneath her feet and the buzzing of bees 10 feet away.
She also discovered that her “children are very loud,” she laughed. “A lot of days the hearing aides come out.”
Trisha did not have the benefit of hearing aides when she auditioned for “Camelot” three years ago. But she wasn’t planning on getting a major part in the play. She would have been happy to sing in the chorus.
“I’ve always loved to sing. As soon as I was able to get into the church choir, I was there.”
But Trisha was a little puzzled at the audition when she was amongst the final four ladies singing and speaking the lines of the main character, Guinevere.
“I was still in the running, and I wasn’t sure why.”
She was in the company of very talented people, including a professional actress who had already played in three productions of “Camelot.”
But directors Jenny Stevens and Veronica Costa-Bolten (who also direct “Beauty and the Beast”) were able to hear and see Guinevere in Trisha’s voice and actions.
Stevens, Bolten and orchestra director Dale Lohtka worked hard with Trisha in her first major musical role.
“We worked a lot during the late afternoons. I would go to Jenny’s house to do lots of pitch memorization.” Trisha said, explaining that she can feel the pitch in throat.
Jon is amazed at his wife’s ability to pull pitches out.
“She has a huge advantage,” he said.
Trisha loved playing Guinevere, one of theater’s most enduring characters.
While she attended Wasilla High School she made her stage debut playing another renowned stage and real life character, Helen Keller, in “The Miracle Worker.”
“I was the only freshman in an otherwise all-senior production,” she said.
Trisha continued acting and singing while she attended Martin Luther College, a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod school in New Ulm, Minn.
She was not strong enough vocally to be a lead, but she was unstoppable as a dancer.
She appeared with Jon in “Brigadoon” and she choreographed “Hello Dolly.”
Jon, who came from Appleton, Wis., had a major role in the college’s production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” He also appeared in several children’s theater plays.
The Bartels were married in 1997, the year that Jon enlisted in the Coast Guard.
Serving a second aviation term, Jon is an Alaska qualified air commander. He and his family came to Kodiak in 2006 after he served in Astoria, Ore.
The weather is so treacherous in coastal Alaska that the pilots go through the first year flying different routes, to make sure they are familiar with the area, Jon said.
One of his most memorable operations occurred in 2009 when he and his crew picked up five fishermen from the Mar-gun, which went aground on the north side of St. George Island.
The winds were blowing 40 to 50 knots from the west; swells reached 20 feet.
“The boat was getting pounded by the surf. The skipper didn’t want to come off the boat. He wanted to wait until the last minute. We finally convinced him that (the present moment) was the best time for him to get off.”
The Bartels will be leaving for San Diego this summer. It’s going to be hard for them to say goodbye to Kodiak, a place that has provided them with memorable hiking, hunting and fishing experiences, as well as many cultural activities.
Trisha appeared in several community theater productions.
Jon was in a local reader’s theater presentation and sings with the Alpha Singers (also directed by Stevens.)
Since his wife was having so much fun acting and singing in local plays, he decided to give it a try.
“They seemed like a fun group of people to work with,” he said.
Getting into community theater has given the Bartels a chance to meet people outside the Coast Guard circle.
At times it’s difficult for Jon to juggle work and rehearsals.
Two weeks ago, when Jon was about ready to take off to Dutch Harbor for a short stay, he called Trisha to bring his script to him in case he got weathered in.
Even though the Bartels are at odds with each other in “Beauty and the Beast,” the play gives them a chance to do something together.
“It’s fun to talk about it and go over our lines,” Jon said. “We worked on (the song) “Me” for four hours in our basement one day.”
In most of those lines, Trisha is either resisting or clashing with her husband’s character.
Thankfully, Gaston doesn’t get the girl in the play. But after the curtain comes down and the theater lights go off, Trisha is the one Jon will be taking home.