| Apr 30, 2009

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Sydenham High School Drama Productions

Our Town

The Virtuous Burglar

Our Townby Wilma Kenny

The cast of Our Town

"We faced three major challenges in producing this play at SHS," admitted Dan Raponi, theatre arts teacher, " and they were: working with a cast of 21 student actors, putting together period costumes for them all, and helping the actors 'get it'."

"Getting it" refers to the play itself: Thornton Wilder's Our Town is a deceptively simple story of life in a small village a hundred years ago. It's divided into three parts, which deal with the commonplace events of life, love and death, and its message about the importance of appreciating the everyday things around us in our daily lives develops gently and subtly. Raponi says that only in these later stages of rehearsal when all the actors have been present for the whole play, have they been able to fully appreciate the cumulative effect of the individual scenes they have been working on for the past two months.

    A rehearsal visit brings home the implications of coordinating such a large cast of individuals. "But I have to be at work then/by five/all morning Saturday," "How'll I get home?" "I've changed my doctor appointment," are only a few of the comments fired at Raponi. But somehow when the rehearsal begins, all 21 are present, hitting the stage on cue, and focussed.

    Obviously the third challenge has also been met: costume mistress Linda Bates is busy handing out hats and tying sashes. "Thousand Islands Theatre has been fantastically generous," says Raponi: "they've loaned us all the costumes we need." Because the stage setting is spare and abstract, he notes, "It's essential to have good costumes."

    Why such a challenging play? "After three years of doing comedies, it was time to tackle something more serious," Raponi noted, " and we have some very seasoned actors who have been studying theatre arts for four or fiveyears: this is a good way to use their skills, and also bring in some of the newer actors. Most of the cast has grown up in or near small villages not so very different from the one Wilder depicts."

    Raponi and his drama crew have a solid reputation for putting on excellent shows, and this one is shaping up to become another winner. (On a personal note, their last year's production was so well done I rounded up some friends and went back to enjoy a second night.)

    After day performances for grades seven and eight from area schools, and for a sold-out house of their fellow high school students, Our Town will run at SHS Thursday, Friday & Saturday, May 7,8 & 9. Doors open at 6:30: show starts at 7:00.Admission is $6.00 for students and seniors, $8.00 for adults.

The Virtuous Burglar – timing is everything

reviewed by Jeff Green

Curtis Law and Ana Donevan-Hickie, as the Man and Woman, in the Virtuous Burglar

The Sydenham High School (SHS) production of The Virtuous Burglar surprised a few people at the St. Lawrence District Sears Drama Festival in Perth last month.

Schools such as Kingston Collegiate (KCVI) and Regiopolis (Kingston) and Perth Collegiate (PCVI) have often moved on to the regional festival from this district, but this time the Virtuous Burglar was one of three productions, along with PCVI and Marie Riviere (the French language school in Kingston) to move on to the next level.

At the Eastern Regional Festival, which was held at the KCVI theatre in Kingston last weekend, the SHS production of the Virtuous Burglar was the final play to be performed on the Saturday Night of the Festival.

One viewer, the parent of a student from another school who saw the production in Perth as well as last weekend in Kingston, said “it was really good in Perth but they did a lot of work since then and it was even better tonight.”

The result of all that work was a sharp, fast flowing production of the Virtuous Burglar, which was written back in 1958 by the Italian playwright Dario Fo.

As the festival adjudicator pointed out, selecting a play by Dario Fo was an interesting choice for a high school production in 2009.

Fo, along with his wife and theatrical partner, Franca Rama, were steeped in the Commedia del Arte tradition of Italian comedy. To this tradition, they have brought an uncompromising left wing/humanist political satire that has made them controversial figures in Italy to the present day. Fo, now 80, recently performed a devatastating imitation of current Italian Prime minister Sylvio Berlusconi on Youtube. He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1997.

In the “Virtuous Burglar” social satire is couched in fast paced comedy of misunderstanding that works in much the same way as a modern situation comedy.

The “burglar” is virtuous because he is the only character in the play, with the exception of his wife, who is honest about what he does. The rest of the characters, who come from the more privileged classes, aren't virtuous in any sense.

The character of the Man, a city councilor played by Curtis Law, epitomized the corruption that Fo saw at the heart of Italian society. When he was worried that the public would find out he was an adulterer, he said “I was planning to retire from council next year. If they find out about this they'll make me the Mayor.” Curtis Law played the role with the kind of oily self confidence typical of the rich ids in modern day TV shows such as “Gossip Girl” or “90210”

The key to the SHS production was the flawless interplay between the actors. The banter was delivered at breakneck pace, and the actors also knew which lines to respond to and which lines to let go over their heads.

The audience, as steeped as they are in the conventions of situation comedy, took great delight in catching those jokes that went over the heads of the dumbfounded actors.

Dylan Parsons, as the Burglar, set the tone for the play. He made full comic use of his height, squeezing himself into the grandfather clock a couple of times. Although he was on stage for the bulk of the play, he never lost his focus, and even when he was not involved in the dialogue, he was always listening, reacting, or sneaking about the stage furthering his own interests.

It was a phone call to the house that the burglar was in the midst of robbing, by the Burglar's Wife, played by Megan Tidman to great effect, that propelled all of the other characters into fits.

Ana Donefer – Hickie, as The Woman, was as amoral as the burglar was virtuous. While none of the characters were particularly concerned about anyone else, she was the master manipulator, balancing her desire for The Man with her desire to avoid getting caught by The Man's wife, Anna, or her own husband Antonio.

Donefer was as adept at playing off the other characters as she was at playing to the audience. The play also involved a lot of running around for her, and being carried, all of which could not have been easy for someone with a sprained ankle.

It was only at the end of the production, after the curtain call, that it became apparent that there was anything wrong with Donefer's ankle, which had been hidden underneath her shoes throughout the performance.

Lauren Hammond, as Anna, arrives late in the play. She plays the stern, unsuspecting wife convincingly, making it all the more entertaining for the audience when her affair with The Woman's husband Antonio, Geoff Hull, is revealed.

Although the Virtuous Burglar was not chosen to move on to the Sears Ontario Finals, which will be held at the Grand Theatre later in May, Megan Tidman was given an award of merit for her performance, and Ana-Donefer-Hickie, who directed the play as well, received an award of excellence for Direction and Performance.

Other students who were involved in the production included; Owen Sheffield, who played the second burglar, Julie Sleeth – stage manager, Emelia Myles-Gonzales, Cait Dickison, and Brook Davy – set crew, and Julie Sleeth and Jacob Dearborn – lighting crew.

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