This year, Hanover High School’s Drama Club hosted the 2020 METG Drama Festival preliminary round in February. It was an excellent and long day of superb theater!
So how does festival work? Each school that attends performs a short, one act play for a judges’ panel. The school needs to place their set in five minutes, perform their show in 40 and take down their set in another five. Once a play starts, no one can enter or leave the theater. In addition, the judges should not be able to hear the name of the school performing before the play starts.
Viewing Festival is a lot for the brain. Eight pieces of theater is a lot to comprehend. However, the day flies by and the students from different schools have a chance to interact with other “theater kids” from around the area. So what was each show like? I’ll walk you through my favorite parts of the day.
Starting off the day strong was The Clark School, from Rowley, Mass., in their production of “Lila the Werewolf” by Peter S. Beagle. In the show, the character Farrell, played by Sean Bax, deals with learning his girlfriend, Lila, played by Caroline Lucey, is a werewolf. Through the show, you meet Farrell’s friend and narrator Ben, portrayed by Christian Grant, the super of the building who’s out to get Lila (Ryan Trabulsi) and Lila’s intense mother Bernice (Rose DiNoto). The show was filled with dark humor. I really enjoyed Grant’s performance as Ben. I thought he brought a level of humor to the supernatural as well as carried the show excellently with his narration. He and Bax, who played Farrell, won awards for their stellar performance. The set design, in addition, did an excellent job of blending the supernatural and the real world together with their use of shadow puppets.
The next show of the day was “Radium Girls” by D.W. Gregory performed by Southeastern Regional Vocational High School. The story follows Grace, portrayed in this production by Colleen Wood, who unveils the mystery of why all the girls who worked at the Radium Factory are getting sick. Through lawsuits and publicity, Grace needs to make a choice between doing what is easy and doing what is right. My favorite part of this production was that all of the main characters, including the male leads, were portrayed by women. Whether or not this was done intentionally, I thought it was a great way to highlight the historic significance of this tragic event. Another excellent aspect was the set and makeup design. Their set featured an interesting use of large platforms and a large clock that continued moving throughout the whole performance to highlight the mortality of the girls. The makeup in the show was fantastic. The makeup designer did an excellent job of applying prosthetics to the girls very quickly in order to make them look more sick as the show progressed. She was, rightly so, recognized by the judges. My personal favorite performance was Coleen Malley as Arthur Roeder, the factory head. She did an excellent job of portraying the wide range of emotions and stress that Arthur experiences throughout the play. I loved her performance and so did the judges!
One of the best plays of the day, and my personal favorite, was “Monster” by Don Zolidis. Performed by Weymouth High School, Monster is centered around Mary Shelley’s 19th century writing of “Frankenstein.” Shelley formed the idea for Frankenstein from a dream she had while competing in a ghost story competition with her friends. The play takes place during this ghost story competition at Lord Byron’s summer house in Switzerland. Whilst telling the stories, there is a “Ghost ensemble” that performs them. The play touches on experiences from Mary and Percy Shelley’s life that influenced her ideas and her writing for Frankenstein. While some of it is added for theme purposes, the story is very historically accurate. While I would love to dive into Mary’s life experience, for purposes of brevity, I recommend you watch a documentary on Mary Shelley’s life. Some of the most notable performances included the ghost ensemble; Lord Byron, played by Zach Norton; and John Polidori, played by James Harmon, who were all recognized by the judges. While she was not recognized, I thought that Abigail Huard’s portrayal of Mary was fantastic. I thought she carried the show brilliantly and was exactly how I imagined Mary to be in my head. Overall, I think what brought the show to the next level was their set design and technical effects. There were black lights and strobe lights that really set the mood of tension when the ghost stories were being told. The set was fantastic. When the actors moved to different places, it really felt like they were moving through an old house. The show was not the most funny nor emotionally powerful of the day but, combined with the superb acting, technical effects and set, the show was one of the best.
The next show was our very own Hanover High School performing, in my opinion, the funniest show of the day, “The Scheme of the Driftless Shifter” by Carolyn Lane. This show is, as one judge put it, “an intentional trainwreck.” There was a “fight” in the audience, a disgruntled cleaning lady, fake snow, lines dropped and a man playing a dog, all while a cast is trying to perform a very serious production. This show was the epitome of hilarious. I was keeling over in my seat laughing, on the verge of tears and peeing myself. The accents, for starters – notably Ben Mannings’s Scottish accent as Henry Pompington, – really added to the idea that the cast of the show was trying to put on a very serious production and failing miserably. There were many times in the show that you thought it was ending and the curtain would close, and then a new chaotic scene would start. It was hysterical and, by far, the funniest show of the day. Elise Falvey, Maia Arbia and Peter Bell were all recognized for their performances as Petunia Pompington, the Stage Manager and the Piano Player, respectively.
Picking up after lunch was Lynnfield High School performing “Brilliant Traces” by Cindy Lou Johnson. This was a two person show! The entire show was carried by Grace Mealy as Rossanah DeLuce and Greyson Wainwright as Henry Harry. In the play, Rossanah arrived at Henry’s door in the middle of an Alaskan whiteout dressed in a wedding dress. Through the course of a couple days, the two deal with the aftermath of the situation and learn about each other. I thought that the show was very impressive. However, at times it felt to me as if it was artsy and different, and flaunted it. But, that’s more a commentary on the writing and directorial direction and not on the performance. I thought that Mealy and Wainwright did an excellent job of displaying the sudden intimacy of the characters as well as the humanity the two discover within themselves through their meeting. I thought the lighting and sound design were quite bland; however, there isn’t too much to be done with a show that is so chemistry-driven. The set design was beautiful. The cabin was very realistic and utilized angles very well to create an excellent sense of space. From an audience standpoint, the use of props allowed the show to feel natural and like you were witnessing a real tender moment between two people. Overall the show was not my favorite but a very interesting experience and an opportunity to see two fabulous student actors.
“Anybody for Tea?” by C.B. Gifford was the show performed by Notre Dame Academy. This show was about six old spinsters who start to murder each other in order to lure the “very attractive” Captain Williams (Clare Kennedy) to their house. A common compliment I’ve had for festival has been the set design. Notre Dame’s set was fabulous. The house of the old ladies felt exactly what you would expect to see in a house with six old spinsters. The lighting design was interesting because it utilized lamps on the stage, but the sound was a little bland. Overall, the show was a little too slow for me. However, the six spinsters’ performances were so accurate. Their body language and style of speaking really led me to believe they where old ladies. My favorite performance was Connaught Riley as Hildegarde Hodge who (spoiler) is the one who commits the two murders. Her confession was hysterical and added to the whimsy of the darker content. “Anybody for Tea” was not my type of show, but it was a delightful mystery and a funny performance.
Everett High School performed “Augusta & Noble” by Carlos Murillo. This show brought tears to my eyes. I could neither classify it as a comedy or drama but rather a wholesome and important story to tell. The story follows Gabi Castillo, a daughter of immigrants from Mexico who is struggling with her identity. Through a blend of dreams and the real world, Gabi learns that despite being an immigrant, she belongs here. The show was sweet and shed light on real struggles of disadvantaged immigrant families. Jhalyshka Feliciano’s performance as Gabi was beautiful and I found it very easy to sympathize with her. Feliciano was awarded for her performance. The lighting design had to be my favorite part of the show. There were parts in the show where they would be in the desert or at school, and I thought the lighting design done by Bryan de Souza really made the show come together as a whole.
The most powerful performance of the day for me personally was “My Love Lies Frozen In the Ice” by The Dead Rabbits and performed by Boston Latin School. Like “Augusta & Noble,” I really couldn’t classify this show as either a comedy or a drama, but it was nothing like the show prior to it. The play follows Mathilde, played by Alexa Wong, as her brother Solomon (Ian Wright) and fiance Nils (Calvin Szulc) develop a balloon that will carry them to the North Pole. They then leave her behind, only to never return. This play was filled with audience interactions, improvisation and heart-wrenching moments. One of the coolest technical aspects of the show was that a large balloon was thrown into the audience as well as a small balloon that floated from the booth down to the stage. I applaud the technical crew for including such fun interactive moments and the actors improvising with the small mishaps. What made the show so powerful for me was Alexa Wong’s performance as Mathilde. She was able to clearly narrate and carry the story. She had these amazing moments of hilarity and many moments of sadness and heartbreak, all of which were delivered with clarity. She was lovable and relatable and one of my favorite performances of the day. She earned a performance award from the judges.
At the end of the day, I think all of these shows deserved to move on to the next round of competition, which was unfortunately delayed – and then cancelled – because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each was so different but equally as wonderful. The three that advanced were “Monster,” “My Love Lies Frozen In the Ice” and “Augusta & Noble.”