May I suggest postponing high school plays.
The plays were not performed in high schools. Lord, no, more of these, please. More arts, more music, more theater. High school theater evokes some of my fragrant memories (I wasn’t voted best freshman play for nothing.) No, I mean high school plays. In one week, two hit us: Dance Nation in the Rec Room and most recently, High School Play: Nostalgia Festival, the world premiere of Vichy Chaume at Alley.
I’m done with teenage anxiety, raging hormones, fantasies and trifles. I certainly went to high school in the medieval period; But, believe me, no one, male or female, has ever spoken of the power of “Pussed-up”, as they do so loudly at Nation, nor have our small group of playwrights in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, compete in a state-level theater competition like they do in High school. Who knew Texans were obsessed with drama with the same enthusiasm as Friday night football?
High school Gentle, beautiful, soft, sweet … and very long. Workshops at the Ucross Residency at the Alley Theater in Wyoming and developed for the Alley All New Festival, the play needs a box of red pencils. Working three hours!
At Carrollton High School in Texas, the theater section is escaping to statewide finals, which include oratory, duets (two-person scenes), comic, single act, and various solo acting classes. This is a big deal, especially for veteran drama teachers Dirkson (Todd White) and Mrs. Blue (Melissa Pritchett). I lost school last year and won’t lose again. They direct kids with rah-rah slogans, spit them out with cliched words, and don’t excel at throwing non-guilty students under the bus if it means winning. White and Pritchett — in her faux leopard-colored blouse and leather skirt, thanks to stylist Ari Fulton — are up to their mission. They mean well, qualify well with alcohol, and plan their strategy.
Star-studded children, on the cusp of something, are determined though also clueless. Dara (Daniel Velasco) is the younger brother of the former school star. He’s also Asian, perfect for the role of King in the upcoming school production of The King and I. He’s their legend, until Paul (Jarred Tettey) publicly relocated from New York. We were told he’s an ostensible actor, but Tite is so laid-back and soft, it’s hard to believe. We never see his power, and Writer Chom never provides it. Paul Foxy Ain Dara, and we know exactly where this play is going.
Dara’s girlfriend, Kylie (Sabrina Koss), suspects something is going on. He was never there with her. She is a trot, but he walks hesitantly. Rich (Ricardo Davila), a flamboyant queen, ironic and dancer, throws pranks like confetti. Has this stereotype gone out of fashion years ago? Dávila brings surprise and edge to his performance, but Chum fails him miserably.
Sophie (Kiaia Scott, in the evening’s most poignant characterization) is the fierce, bold black girl who knows her worth…and her strength. When she gives her superior speech and anticipates her future, her voice drops and suddenly she becomes an adult, full of strength and seems to know everything – a wondrous revelation. Alison (My Lou) carries a torch for Dara, Rich’s comedy. When she heard that Kylie had broken up with Dara, she swerved on the floor like a crab to be near him. If beautiful.
Primarily, high school is Dara’s exit party. When Paul gently puts his hand on Dara’s leg while they watch a video, Dara gets upset and rushes away, but we know what’s going to happen, only because we’ve seen it so many times before. The friend does not give us any surprises. We are getting ahead of it. There are too many monologues that stop the flow and repeat what we already know. These people may be lightly drawn, but the actors, spurred on by the very smooth guidance of Tiffany Nicole Green, have already revealed their inner lives. We get it twice the first time.
Production is Alley Slick. A flexible, rotating set from Michael Locher—a high school gym with lockers, bulbous overhead light fixtures, and side curtains—keeps the piece flowing; Melanie Chin Cole’s voice design will receive accolades from Casey Kasem.
The friend has a lot to say, but he keeps saying it.
Its main theme turns out to be carpe diem (“seize the day”), by seventeenth-century English poet Robert Herrick “to the virgins, to gain plenty of time” with his famous first line, “Collect the rosebuds while you may.” Dara wakes up. In the end, Paul takes his hand and the flowers fall like a puddle.
This revelation comes out of nowhere, as there hasn’t been much spark between Dara and Paul throughout the evening. We take this on faith – or nostalgia – like a play.
High School Play: The Nostalgia Festival runs through February 13 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours is required. Masks must be worn in the theatre. For more information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre, org. $30 to $91.