Anne Frank play unforgettable

Gordon
Gordon Jones
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Friday and Saturday at the LSPU Hall showcased seven productions in the province’s 38th School Theatre Arts Festival, commencing with Don Zolidis’s “Oz,” mounted by Gros Morne Academy.

It starts, unexpectedly, with six mourners around a coffin. But then fairy-tale mode kicks in as willowy Beth (Shelby Genge) is transported to the land of Oz, where she encounters Cowardly Lion (Dylen Tucker), Wicked Witch of the West (Michelle Laing), Tin Man (Niall Hingston), Scarecrow (Jeff Anderson), Munchkin Mayor (Aaron Hingston), and, finally, the Wizard himself (Cole Bugden), who magics her back to Oklahoma, together with her lost sister, returned to life.

The tale is engagingly enacted, with strong production values: highly colourful and imaginative costumes, sets and props, with sharp set-changing and lighting effects.

All in all, an amusing and eye-pleasing show.

The most serious and important play of the evening and of the festival was mounted by Appalachia High School from St. George’s.

Written and directed by schoolteacher Janice Kitchen, “After the Attic” chronicles the persecution of a Jewish girl and her family, hidden in an Amsterdam attic to evade the anti-semitic Nazi occupiers during the Second World War.

Ultimately discovered by the Germans, young Anne Frank and her family are transported to Auschwitz, where the parents die. Subsequently, Anne is transferred to even more infamous Belsen concentration camp, where she and her sister (Kerri Delaney) die of typhus a desperately short time before American troops liberate Belsen.

The story is told, calmly and dispassionately, by the dead Anne Frank (Amber Bennett), her narrative illustrated by action before and behind three sisal screens, which frame projected photographs and silhouetted shadow play. Lighting is dramatic, with overriding darkness pierced by pools of light. Music cues are gently tristful.

Restrained, even prosaic, in its description of violence and atrocity, “After the Attic” displays the banality of evil, keeping the audience intensely focused through the full 45 minutes of the show.

Kitchen’s moving production of “After the Attic” will remain in my mind for a long time. I hope it will have a theatrical afterlife.

Bringing Brian D. Taylor’s “Ghost Hunt” from Flower’s Cove to St. John’s, six young ladies from Canon Richards Academy (Tori Lawless, Megan Parrill, Rebecca Noseworthy, Lanni Gould, Tia White, Gema Matchim) are spending a stormy night in an old and reputedly haunted house, equipped with video-recorders to catch a ghost on tape.

Not much happens until a family arrives, two sisters (Tana Genge, Melanie Crane) with father and mother (Jeffrey Poole, Mackenzie Genge), all four dressed in clothing from the period of the American Civil War.

The documentary makers try to explain to the interlopers that they are all dead. But the six students move with alacrity when asked to leave.

When one of the daughters of the civil war family pulls out a cellphone, it emerges that the foursome are not 19th-century ghosts, but contemporaries on the way to a costume celebration.

And, the father explains, the six girls who fled the house were ghosts.

Despite spirited performances, the clunky plot takes an inordinately long time to reach its shaggy-dog punch line. But the audience sprang instantly to its feet for curtain call, raucously applauding the show. “Awesome wasn’t it?” I overheard one lady remark. So much for critics.

Set in a mental institution for women, Mitchell Giannunzio’s “Villanelle,” co-directed by Jocelyn Ivany and Michael Snelgrove, with an all-female cast, was the last of Friday’s offerings, performed by Exploits Valley High.

In the locked lounge of a mental institution, six women in hospital gowns chat and squabble, play cards and have tantrums, and talk about life before the clinic. When their self-possessed nurse (Gillian McKee) joins them, she becomes the focus of their frustration, while she complains about their lying to her. She berates them, they gang up on her, and she flees, leaving them behind the locked door.

Katherine Nuotio-Trimm, Sophia Crocker, Margot Rodgers, Marissa Lunnen, Robynn Hoskins and Kelsey Butler are easy and convincing in their interactive relations and aspirations (or lack of them).

The final evening of the festival opened with Marystown Central High’s presentation of Bobby Kenniston’s amusingly apt “Avoiding the Pitfalls of High School Dating.” Half a dozen students are enrolled in a seminar on speed-dating, organized by two smartly dressed presenters (Ryan Herridge, Katie Power) expounding the five cardinal rules of dating — when the fast-talking hucksters are not quarreling.

First entrant is wide-eyed, eager-to-please, nerdy Lenny (Kundai Mkondo). His first partner is a stunning blond, who soon walks out on him. His second partner is Matilda (Robyn Vivian), a surly punk with black hair, black lipstick, dressed entirely in black. Strike two.

Then Lenny gets another blonde (Moya Spencer), who soon has him in an arm-lock. “Call me pretty one more time and I’ll break your arm.” Strike three.

Meanwhile, Matilda is paired with clean-cut Buddy (Jonathon Cooze) — with her mother (Adrienne Evans) and obnoxious father (Tyson Hodder) butting in. Then she is paired with a guy in torn jeans and cap on backwards.

She talks with relish about death and funerals, while the presenters look on in disbelief. Finally, Matilda bumps into Lenny again, who mentions that he works in a funeral parlour — and she has found the man of her dreams.

Next in the frame was Wesleyville’s Pearson Academy, with “Smokin’ Joe’s Revival,” by Michael Rogers. Mechanic and garage owner (Kirk Blackwood) Joe tells the audience he is dead. Missing his friends, he is bored in heaven.

His guardian angel, heaven’s worst, couldn’t protect him from gunshot because she was away on a date (Jane Cooze or Bethany Kean — there are two angels, sorry ladies). So she takes him back to the old garage for a day to see friends (Blake Stratton, Riley Gill), sister (Meghin Perry) and girlfriend, Jasmine (Kyla Stratton).

While back on Earth, a whole lot of dancing goes on: sixsome break dancing, Joe and Jasmine romantically entwined, two-by-two dancing and a grand finale of prolonged and acrobatic disco dancing to the delight of a clapping and hollering audience.

The closing chapter of the festival was Mount Pearl Senior High presenting Alan Haehnel’s “The Case of Alex Hansen,” directed by Rene Pike, a kafkaesque courtroom drama in which a bewildered young man (Michel Lawlor) is on trial for a capital crime of which he has no knowledge or recollection, defended by an indifferent and incompetent lawyer, who goes over to the prosecution (Ryan McDonald), in a trial presided over by an abusive and overbearing female judge (Faith Ford).

As the trial proceeds, it becomes more and more surreal and bizarre, culminating in the defendant being strapped into an electric chair and berated for killing 372 worms during his lifetime, while being repeatedly urged to press the activating button on the arm of the chair. “Press the button, press the button.”

He does.

And so the 38th annual Newfoundland and Labrador School Theatre Arts Festival came to an end, with final remarks, congratulations, and certificates and awards from adjudicator Steve O’Connell.

No losers — all winners.

Organizations: Appalachia High School, Canon Richards Academy, High School Dating Pearson Academy Newfoundland and Labrador School

Geographic location: Oklahoma, Amsterdam, Auschwitz

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