Hey, let’s put on a play!
“Play” is the word for what happens onstage. Theater is a game of the imagination. The rules are endlessly flexible, but they usually go like this: Distribute amongst a believable bunch of people the raw materials and motivations of life — love and anger, advantage and disadvantage, joy and despair — and watch them start working their problems. Whether it’s hilarious or tragic, melodramatic or musical, it’s alive.
The audience has to play along, too, with attentive silence, mostly, but also with the laughter and cries that keep things lively. They’ve got to behave. They’ve got to believe.
Consider various apartments. One, a New York City public-health nuisance, is the home of unhappy bachelor and champion slob Oscar Madison. Now, here comes champion obsessive-compulsive Felix Ungar, a homeless refugee after driving his wife out of her mind. Love and hate ensue.
“The Odd Couple,” a classic Broadway comedy from the 1960s, remains vibrantly alive today. Playwright Neil Simon even flipped his mostly male script in the 1980s to produce a version starring Olive Madison and Florence Ungar; the poker buddies became a gaggle of girlfriends playing Trivial Pursuit, and the upstairs love interests are no longer sweet sisters from England but hunky brothers from Barcelona.
La Center High School is doing both versions.
“We are making La Center theater history with two weekends of shows,” said director Sara Rideout. “The four leads are working after school every day. It’s a lot of work for us, so we’re hoping the community really comes out and supports us.”
If You Go
Upcoming Clark County spring school theater productions:
Battle Ground High School• What: "Father of the Bride" by Caroline Francke.
• When: 7 p.m. May 5-7, 12-14.
• Where: 300 W. Main St., Battle Ground.
• Cost: $8; $5 students and seniors.
Camas High School
• What: Senior-directed “One-acts” including “Writer’s Block” by Jonah Bates.
• When: 7 p.m. May 20.
• What: “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare.
• When: 7 p.m. June 2-3; 2 p.m. June 3.
• Cost: $7; $5 students and seniors.
• Where: 26900 S.E. 15th St., Camas.
• What: “Measure for Measure” by William Shakespeare.
• When: 7 p.m. May 13-14; 19-21.
• Where: Frost Arts Center, Decker Theatre, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.
• Cost: $13; $9 students; $11 seniors.
Evergreen High School
• What: “Oklahoma!” by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
• When: 7 p.m. May 5-6 (American Sign Language interpreted), 13-14; 3 p.m. May 7 and 12.
• Where: 14300 N.E. 18th St., Vancouver.
• Cost: $10; $7 students and seniors.
Firm Foundation Christian School
• What: “The Diary of Anne Frank” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.
• When: 7 p.m. April 29-30.
• Where: 1919 S.W. 25th Ave., Battle Ground.
• Cost: $7; $5 students.
Fort Vancouver High School
• What: “All You Need Is Love,” an anthology of original plays by students Kendra Smith, Deanna Medina and Shelby Guillet, plus teachers Ben Jatos and Bethany Rivard.
• When: 6:30 p.m. May 5-7.
• Where: 5700 E. 18th St., Vancouver.
• Cost: $5.
Hockinson High School
• What: “Guys and Dolls” by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.
• When: 7 p.m. May 5-7, 12-14; 1 p.m. May 7.
• Where: 16819 N.E. 159th St., Brush Prairie.
• Cost: $10; $6 seniors and children
Hudson’s Bay High School
• What: “Salem’s Daughter” by Craig Sodaro.
• When: 7 p.m. May 13-14, 20-21.
• Where: 1601 E. McLoughlin Blvd., Vancouver.
• Cost: $5; free for students with ID and seniors.
La Center High School
• What: Two versions of “The Odd Couple” by Neil Simon: Female: 7 p.m. May 6, 12, 14; male: 7 p.m. May 5, 7, 13.
• Where: 725 Highland Road, La Center.
• Cost: $5.
Mountain View High School
• What: “Beauty and the Beast” by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Linda Woolverton.
• When: 7 p.m. May 19-21, 26-28; 1 p.m. May 21.
• Where: 1500 S.E. Blairmont Drive, Vancouver.
• Cost: $10; $8 students, seniors and children under 12.
Ridgefield High School
• What: “High School Musical” by (a small army of writers).
• When: 7 p.m. April 29-30; May 4-6.
• Where: 2630 S. Hillhurst Road, Ridgefield.
• Cost: $11; $8 students and seniors.
Skyview High School
• What: “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder.
• When: 7 p.m. May 26-28.
• Where: 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.
• Cost: $5; $4 students
Vancouver School of Arts and Academics
• What: “The Boy Friend” by Sandy Wilson.
• When: 7 p.m. May 6-7, 12 (American Sign Language interpreted), 13-14; 2 p.m. May 7, 14.
• Where: 3101 Main St., Vancouver.
• Cost: $5; $4 students and seniors.
Washougal High School
• What: “Frankenstein” by Tristan Fackler.
• When: 7 p.m. May 6-7, 13-14.
• Where: 1201 39th St., Washougal.
• Cost: $5; $4 students and seniors.
Any essential differences between the two versions? The male play has more depth and poignancy, Rideout said, while the female rewrite emphasizes Neil Simon’s brilliant wisecracks and wit. Rideout said all her actors are diving in with gusto.
Another apartment, another story. This one is the coming of age of an ordinary teen under extraordinary circumstances: hiding for nearly two years from Nazi occupiers in a cramped Amsterdam attic. The most amazing thing about “The Diary of Anne Frank” is that it’s based on real people and their real struggle to survive.
“We are proud to present this historically important play,” said director Dori Millay of the Firm Foundation Christian School. “Our cast is quite young. Almost half are freshmen and participating for the first time in a play of any kind. Brooklyn Warren, who plays Anne Frank, brings her to life with great energy and conviction.”
One more apartment. It’s also got people hiding inside: young lovers whose parents would pretty much kill them if they knew, not because they’re kids; it’s because their families are mortal enemies locked in an endless cycle of gang warfare.
For a piece that hit the stage in 1597, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” feels remarkably relevant right now. Director Sean Kelly has packed in additional freshness by transforming Camas High School’s big theater into an intimate “black box” with in-the-round seating. The actors will be surrounded by the audience, Kelly said, and the show’s focus will be on “the complex and tragic duality of human nature,” not just star-crossed teen sweeties.
It’s no secret that theatrical play requires hard work before anything goes onstage. Drama teachers and directors love it when their students take that initiative and get creative.
Washougal High School graduating senior Tristan Fackler is “a gifted writer who came to me and asked if he could adapt Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ for the stage,” said drama teacher Kelly Gregersen. “He got it approved as his senior project. It’s a terrific script.”
Drama students who did a read-through kept breaking into applause, Gregersen said, and insisted on staging the show.
Get ready for horrific makeup, foam prosthetics and deep soul-searching about nature and science. Playwright Fackler stayed as true as possible to Shelley’s original language and themes, Gregersen said.
“It’s not the black-and-white monster story I grew up with,” he said.
Camas and Fort Vancouver high schools are also offering special nights of student-driven productions. “All You Need Is Love,” Fort’s show, is an anthology of seven short plays written and directed by students and staff. Camas will do three one-act plays, one of which, “Writer’s Block,” was written by senior Jonah Bates.
“Working with these kids is one of the great joys of my life,” said Stephan Henry, who is directing a big-haired, crazy-costumed 1980s version of “Father of the Bride” at Battle Ground High School. “I’ve been a theater professional for years but I am always learning from them, because they’re the ones inhabiting the roles. They’re living it.”