During these deeply divided times, it’s good to be reminded that fiercely independent thought, conscientious protest and civil disobedience — with the potential reward of time behind bars — are as American as apple pie with corn syrup and Cool Whip.
When Sara Rideout was in high school, her English teacher introduced her to the writings of Henry David Thoreau, an influential thinker who remains famous a century and a half after his death for “Walden,” a masterwork about withdrawing from civilization and returning to nature. But Thoreau also wrote a ground-breaking essay, “Civil Disobedience,” about resisting corrupt governments that was inspired by his hatred of slavery and the Mexican-American War.
All of that thrilled the teenaged Rideout, who said it inspired her to re-evaluate “my relationship to my government, nature and religion.” Years later, La Center theater teacher Rideout was even more thrilled to discover “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail,” a two-act play that depicts the author’s principled incarceration on the night of July 23, 1846. That’s when Thoreau refused to pay six years of back taxes that, he argued, would only support slavery inside and imperial adventures outside our borders — such as the Mexican American War, then underway.
“The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail” was the product of another bitterly divided era. Protest and strife over race relations and the Vietnam War were widespread when the play opened in 1971; it may have been set in the 1840s, but critics noted how directly it spoke to the concerns of the 1970s. The same playwrighting team, Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence, had already scored in the 1950s with “Inherit the Wind,” another historical, issue-oriented play that was destined to become a classic (and a staple of high school English classes).
“The play flashes through Thoreau’s memories, and we see the people who influenced him and the events that shaped him,” Rideout said. “I’ve had (the play) on my short list … just waiting for the right group of students who I knew could bring it to life … and this year was finally that time. I have 10 seniors this year, all of them immensely talented, so I knew I needed to give them something substantial that would push them to grow in ways they hadn’t yet had the opportunity to do.”
“This is going to be a completely unique theater experience for Clark County,” she said. “This play tends to be done at the college level, but my students have become completely emotionally involved in these characters and are truly doing extraordinary work.”
Late October and November is school theater season, and after a belated and bumpy beginning to the academic year, student thespians are getting ready to take the stage. There’s no end to the variety on tap, so if heavy-duty American history and politics aren’t quite your stein of Sam Adams, keep scanning the list.
There’s musical comedy, action-adventure, fairy-tale fantasy, world affairs, massive Shakespearean tragedy and quick, surreal, single-scene episodes that aim to tease your brain in between laughs.
That’s an anthology of short plays by David Ives called “All in the Timing,” a partnership project of Hudson’s Bay and Skyview high schools, and it features situations such as an awkward conversation in a bar that’s constantly interrupted by a falsehood-detecting bell, and a gathering of those experimental typewriting monkeys who, given enough time, supposedly ought to be able to produce Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Speaking of which, Camas High School will get murderous with the Bard’s “Macbeth,” the story of an ambitious Scottish general who (spurred on by his wife plus a trio of bubbly witches) keeps bumping off his rivals. In the end, of course, he learns that even the most magically schemed mischief gets messy.
But there’s no place for messiness in the choreographed combat in “Macbeth,” and also in Evergreen High School’s gender-neutral rendition of “Robin Hood.” Director Margaret Gorman said authentic-looking but harmless stage combat involves building lots of trust and practicing both verbal and physical communication skills. She likes doing stage combat, she said, because it gives energetic young people a way to burn off energy — and it teaches girls in particular something about assertiveness and power.
“They’re skewering each other mercilessly, but the process involves a lot of bonding,” Gorman said, and she added with a laugh: “About half the kids die, but it’s a very sweet process.”
It’s been especially sweet for senior Lexzi Boyd, a double amputee below the knees who gets around on prosthetics. Boyd, a theater veteran who is the publicity director for this show, also appears onstage as one of Robin’s Merry Bandits — “one of the good guys,” she said — where she dances and fights with the best of them, she said.
“When it comes to fighting, I have to realize my body is different,” she said. “My way of throwing a punch is different. There’s more movement in my upper body. I don’t have ankles, so my way of dancing is different. But I’m able to do it in a way that fools the audience. I can be a chameleon.
“We have a beautiful cast and we’re bonded in a really unique way,” Boyd said. “There’s also a lot of fighting and a lot of dancing and a lot of rebelliousness. I’m very excited.”
If You Go
Prairie High School
• Play: “Chicago — High School Edition,” by Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse, John Kander and Maurine Dallas Watkins.
• When: 7 p.m. Oct. 26-27 and Nov. 2-3; 1 p.m. Oct. 27 and Nov. 3.
• Where: 11311 N.E. 119th St., Vancouver.
• Tickets: $12; $10 for seniors; $6 for students.
• On the web: www.prairiedramaclub.com
Ridgefield High School
• Play: “Peter and the Starcatcher” by Rick Elice.
• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 1-3 and Nov. 8-10.
• Where: 2630 S. Hillhurst Road, Ridgefield.
• Tickets: $7; $5 for students, staff and veterans.
• On the web: https://ridge.revtrak.net
La Center High School
• Play: “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 8-10.
• Where: 725 Highland Road, La Center.
• Tickets: $5.
• On the web: www.facebook.com/lacentertheatre
Hudson’s Bay and Skyview high schools
• Play: “All in the Timing” by David Ives.
• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 8-10; 2 p.m. Nov. 10.
• Where: 1601 E McLoughlin Blvd,, Vancouver.
• Tickets: $5; $4 for students; free for seniors and children.
Vancouver School of Arts and Academics
• Play: “This Is Not My Home.”
• When: 2 p.m. Nov. 8, 10; 7 p.m. Nov. 8-10 and Nov. 15-16.
• Where: 3101 Main St., Vancouver.
• Tickets: $5.
Battle Ground High School
• Play: “The Diary of Anne Frank” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett; a new adaptation by Wendy Kesselman.
• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 8-10 and Nov. 15-17.
• Where: 300 W. Main St., Battle Ground.
• Tickets: $7; $5 for seniors and students.
Camas High School
• Play: “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare.
• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 8-10 and Nov. 15-17; 2 p.m. Nov. 10 and 16.
• Where: 6900 S.E. 15th St., Camas.
• Tickets: $9.
• On the web: www.facebook.com/CamasTheatre
Evergreen High School
• Play: “Robin Hood.”
• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 9-10 and Nov. 15-17
• Where: 14300 N.E. 18th St., Vancouver.
• Tickets: $10; $7 for students and seniors; free for under 3.
Washougal High School
• Play: “Mamma Mia!”
• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 9-10 and Nov. 16-17; 2 p.m. Nov. 10 and 17.
• Where: Washburn Performing Arts Center, 1201 39th St., Washougal.
• Tickets: $10; $8 for students and seniors.
Mountain View High School
• Play: “A Christmas Carol.”
• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1.
• Where: 1500 S.E. Blairmont Drive, Vancouver.
• Tickets: $10; $8 for students with ASB; $6 for seniors, students without ASB and children under 12.
Heritage High School
• Play: “She Loves Me. ”
• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec. 1 and Dec. 6-8; 1 p.m. Dec. 1.
• Where: 7825 N.E. 130th Ave., Vancouver.
• Tickets: $10; $5 for seniors and children 12 and under.