February 05, 2004

Theatrical Review

(Ha! Now I’m a theatre critic, eh?)

Last night I attended the Cardinal District Theatre Festival. This is what Mookie has been so swamped with lately, on top of regular schoolwork and the spring production of Midsummer’s Night Dream.

The festival is a competition where various schools put on one-act plays before judges and audience. They get constructive criticism from theatrically-trained people, which helps them put on better shows in the future. Each play must run less than 35 minutes or be disqualified. The top two schools from each district move on to regionals, and from there on to state-level competition.

If you care, the rest is in the extended entry.

Last night featured performances from four schools in our local school district, and was hosted at Mookie’s school. A nice home-field advantage, but not as much as you might think because of the minimalist nature of one-acts.

I’m going to review each play, mainly because I think it’s important to support the arts in schools, and I expect one or two friends of Mookie may drop by. If you haven’t been to a local production (even if you don’t have a kid going), then you’re really missing out on something special. I’ll save the “proud papa” crap for the end, where I’ll brag on Mookie, etc.

One nice thing about all of these were that they’re not the usual stuff you see in high school level productions. I think yet another version of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” or “Our Town” might make me ready for work at the post office. The most memorable show I was involved with in my high school days (yeah, when dinosaurs ruled the earth), was when we did Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. No local school had ever attempted an operetta, and it was a huge hit (I was in the orchestra in case nobody wondered). Of course, we were blessed with enough good voices that year to pull it off, but I think too many programs play it safe and stay with the tried and true plays that have been done to death.

Here are the plays presented last night, in order of perfomance:

Final Dress Rehearsal – Hylton Senior High School

This was the most conventional of the four productions, and also the weakest. It had some funny moments, but all in all the acting was pretty poor. Timing and tempo were uneven, I'm guessing that they needed more rehearsal time. Mookie mentioned that instead of having lighting cues, their director handed a script to the lighting techs and showed them where different things were supposed to happen. Overall, not up to normal high school standards.

The Complete History of America, Abridged, Part 1 – Gar-Field Senior High School

Choreographed insanity. This was a half hour of action and dialogue delivered machine-gun style. Original and inventive staging, and when they say ‘complete’, they mean complete, going back to the first inhabitants of North America making their way across the Bering land bridge (“sometime around the birth of Bob Dole”). Columbus is mentioned, but Amerigo Vesuspici gets teased about his habit of naming everyplace he’d been after himself. The bit about the American Revolution hilariously points out our ongoing problem with literacy, and delivers one of the more over-the-top lines: “The Minute Men were better lovers than you might expect.” Nothing is sacred (“But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?”) and the pace is frantic and nonstop. Unlike movie trailers, I haven’t even begun to describe the great lines and action, so if you get a chance to see this one, do yourself a favor and take it! Ok, enough gushing about the play itself, let’s get critical. Like most productions, there’s always one or two actors who just don’t have that ‘stage’ voice and you have trouble hearing them. Because of the speed things are happening, a couple of times lines were read so quickly that they became unintelligible. On the plus side, there were several lines read en masse (a cast of nineteen!) and they were dead on the mark together. In fact, their timing was incredibly good – Mookie told me later that it was the best they’d ever done – and you never were sure where the next line would come from. There were no supporting actors here, they were a true ensemble cast. They also neatly managed the difficult and sometimes subtle choreography needed, there were usually two or more things happening at once on stage. By far, the best high school production I’ve ever seen (not being biased here, really!)

Graceland – Woodbridge Senior High School

Woodbridge changed things up with this one-act. This drama has a cast consisting of just three actors, one of which is a radio announcer who’s not heard after the first minute of the play. The story is about two women who both want to be first to enter Graceland when it opens to the public for the first time. The set was defined by the actresses, a folding chair, pillow and small brown paper bag. Very good performances, although one of the leads suffered, once again, from a lack of projection in her voice. I liked this one a lot.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged – Forest Park Senior High School

This is another inspired comedy from the folks who wrote The Complete History of America, Abridged, Part 1. More energy, more innovative choreography and staging, more laugh-out-loud bits including Hamlet in fast forward and reverse!. During a scene where a ‘wedding orgy’ was to take place, an actor walks across the stage holding up a sign that says “This is a high school play, use your imagination.” The total set consisted of three or four swords, a king’s crown and a laurel wreath placed strategically onstage. Very nicely done, although they didn’t have the precision of timing that Gar-Field displayed during the group lines, which resulted in some muddy and unintelligible dialog. They also relied heavily on three main actors, with the rest of the company mere bit players. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it stood out in contrast to the Gar-Field ensemble. Wonderful costumes. Overall, I ranked this the third best of the night.

Gar-Field was judged as first place (Yay!) and Forest Park was awarded second and will move on to regionals. I don’t know the details of the judging criteria, so I don’t know what aspects scored or how it was weighted. Two things I can think of that might have sunk Woodbridge was the small size of their cast, and possibly the fact that one character repeatedly used the line “What the hell are you talking about?” The first time was kind of surprising considering the milieu, but after the first four or five times it just got annoying.

The kids were bouncing off the walls waiting for the judge’s decision. Mookie couldn’t sit still, and it was comical watching the entire crew sitting together sharing a nervous hand holding clench.

[proud papa mode on]
Rachael (aka Mookie) was given major billing as one of two Stage Managers for the entire evening. She also spent quite a bit of time setting up the lighting and is being groomed for her directorial debut as a senior (she’s a sophomore now). Next year, she’ll be in charge of the entire Stage Crew, this year she’s head of the construction gang and responsible for building the props and sets. She also had a speaking line last night (from the audience) and got cast billing too.
[proud papa mode off]

It was almost 11pm before we got home, and I know the kids were too hyper to go right to bed. I feel sorry for the teachers that have to deal with them today.

Posted by Ted at February 5, 2004 11:02 AM
Category: Boring Stories

Yay!!! Sounds like the Mookie/Rachael has the confidence of the powers that be. May she design a thoudand sets! (ancient Chinese proverb)

Posted by: Tuning Spork at February 5, 2004 10:52 PM


Posted by: Pixy Misa at February 6, 2004 04:29 AM
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