Sandy Wolf stands on the porch of her Semiahmoo home, which is situated directly above the setting for her musical “MARINA.” The play was chosen for the 2012 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Photo by Kelly Sullivan.
Bruce and Sandy Wolf’s home, perched on the hillside of the southwestern shore of Drayton Harbor, sits directly above the location of what was a branch of the Alaska Packers Association, one of the world’s largest salmon canneries in 1908. The cannery is now part of the Semiahmoo Resort and a central setting in Sandy’s dramatic musical “MARINA,” which was selected for the 2012 New York Musical Theatre Festival’s Developmental Series.
“It was an incredible honor to be chosen,” Wolf said. After years of fine tuning, rewriting and networking, her hard work finally paid off. Wolf’s play has pulled in some big names such as composer Justin Melland, stage director Andrea McCullough and music director Sonny Paladino to help produce the stage readings.
Melland, a native of Bellingham, is a successful composer of several TV and film productions. He is the son of local teacher Roxanne Melland and the recently deceased Joe Melland.
“All good musicals are love stories,” Wolf said. “Otherwise why would you be singing?” Putting strong themes such as love and faith into words is a challenge, she said, adding that music more easily expresses these emotions.
“MARINA” is a love story about a young Alaskan woman named Marina who left the northern wilderness after the tragic drowning of her young son due to the negligence of her drunken husband. She opens a cabaret in Blaine, and soon after she meets a Yorkshire fisherman named Angus. He begins courting her despite her self-professed inability to love again.
Throughout the play, Marina repeatedly denies Angus’s advances. In an act of desperation he accepts a position to fish in the far north, despite Marina asking him not to. While he is away she decides if he makes it home safe she will attempt a relationship with him. Things go very wrong when the ill-fated Star of Bengal, the floating cannery, sinks and more than a hundred men from Blaine perish. Angus, among them, survives, returns home, and he and Marina agree to wed.
Angus works closely with the Chinese men at the cannery. The play is set right after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, when large numbers of Chinese men came to Whatcom County to find jobs.
After the installation of the “Iron Chink” a machine that replaced 50 workers on the cannery slime line, many Chinese found themselves stuck in a country that didn’t want them with no way to get home and no possibility to find a wife because there were few Chinese women in the area.
Wolf’s script addresses racial prejudice as a major theme. The characters are fictional, but the plot is historically based.
To offset the many tragedies, Wolf littered the script with comedic misunderstandings and misfortunes.
“Human beings just can’t handle pure grief,” Wolf said. For example, many humorous situations arise due to Marina’s inability to understand Angus’s accent.
Events, situations and themes of the play are often closely related to experiences in Wolf’s life. While she never had a son that died, she did have friends who lost children, which inspired her to address the grief that the loss of a child might manifest in someone.
Wolf lived in Alaska for 30 years before coming to Blaine, where she’s been for the past 17 years. Marina is a refugee from the state.
Wolf has directed many Roger and Hammerstein musicals such as “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music.” She modeled the “MARINA” in many ways after the duo, such as their stylistic choice to tell some of the key moments of the play through song.
Wolf devoted eight years to the project, often for more than four to five hours a day. Despite all the hard work, it was 90 percent fun, she said.
She wrote part of it in the hospital while her husband was ill, and part of it while they vacationed in France, after his recovery.
It was wonderful to be able to work on her play and support him at the same time, she recalls, adding that he is doing very well now. During her spare time she is a wife and mother to four adult kids and ten grandchildren.
A master gardener, she enjoys maintaining her garden, which spans from the base of her house halfway down to the waterfront. Wolf puts the same kind of passion into every aspect of her life, as was evident as a founder of the Pacific Arts Association Jazz Festival in Blaine.
“MARINA” will be given three stage readings this month at the 45th Street Theatre in New York City. To hear the music and learn more about the festival, visit the festival's website.