The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women – The Agnes Irwin School

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The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women by The Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont, PA

February 13, 2019

Review submitted by Allegra Greenawalt of Harriton High School

In our modern day and age, feminist movements are bringing important messages of women’s rights to light as equality for all is still a distant reality. With their production of The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women, The Agnes Irwin School aimed to display a farcical, but profoundly engaging excursion into a plethora of ethics for females who are both survivors and unexpected perpetrators of abuse toward women.

Written in 2011 by Carolyn Gage, The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women tells the story of a small, all-female theater group on opening night as they try to come together to present a courtroom drama on the case of Anastasia Romanov. Combating personalities and heavy disagreement present themselves as the main obstacles for the group of women, and so they must try to overcome their differences before the curtain opens on their new production.

The Agnes Irwin School’s production featured many impressive elements both onstage and off, from talented actresses to ingenious audience interaction that had the ability to influence action within the play. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the performance was the nine actresses’ chemistry and incredible group dynamic onstage. Despite having apparent differences and unique quirks about their individual characters, the ensemble as a whole demonstrated a found understanding for one another, and played off of each other’s energy incredibly well to create an emotionally charged piece of theater.

Leading the performance was Lizzie Dixon as Diane/Prosecuting Attorney and Sophie Urban as Athena/Defense Attorney. Both actresses’ commanding stage presence and natural acting ability allowed them to both deliver the important messages their play-within-a-play aimed to tell and keep the story moving along at the same time.

Standouts among the rest of the cast included Wren Francis (Lisa/Zinaida Tolstoy), Meredith DeCarlo (Marie/Clara Peuthert), and Parker McQuaid (Betty/Bailiff). Francis’s refined German accent and DeCarlo’s drunken antics had the audience in stitches during their respective moments on trial, while McQuaid stole the show with her sarcastic humor and attention to detail in every scene.

Although the technical requirements of the performance did not appear too demanding, they largely contributed to the quality and smooth run of the show. Taylor Carter’s lighting design was simple yet effective, and Caroline Freiwald’s costumes captured the quirks of each of the characters very well.

The verdict is in: The Agnes Irwin School’s production of The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women is guilty of being a striking piece of theater, incorporating feminist perspectives, innovative audience interaction, and hysterical antics that left everyone in stitches.

 

Review submitted by Katrina Conklin of Baldwin School

Feminism. The word alone evokes a myriad of connotations, and yet not one clear definition— even among the feminists themselves. In the Agnes Irwin School’s production of The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women what starts as an indie play crumbles into chaos as the actresses begin to question everything they know about the female identity.

Written in 2003 by feminist playwright Carolyn Gage, The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women is an unconventional play-within-a-play packed with audience participation. A women’s theater group is performing a dramatized trial for Anastasia Romanov, the Duchess of Russia who died under mysterious circumstances following the February Revolution. There’s just one problem: the actresses can’t stand each other. Typical women’s theater, right?

The small cast maintained a large collective stage presence throughout the entire performance. Whether they were portraying the fictional performers, the characters of the Women’s Court, or an indistinguishable blur between the two, the real actresses navigated the play’s complexities with commendable ease.

Dominating the stage for the majority of the performance were the two attorneys: Diane, depicted by Lizzie Dixon, and Athena, portrayed by Sophie Urban. The two fictitious lawyers fought with a combination of poise and ferocity, both bouncing off the other’s energy effortlessly.

Another notable performance came from Betty (Parker McQuaid), whose shy character was chosen perform as the bailiff. Betty’s awkwardness and anxiety were executed with uncomfortable accuracy, down to the constant leg bouncing throughout the entire hour and a half performance. Other highlights included when Lisa, or ‘Zinaida Tolstoy’ (Wren Francis) and Marie, or ‘Clara Peuthert’ (Meredith DeCarlo) took the stand. Francis’s character’s thick accent elicited humored gasps from the crowd, while DeCarlo’s comedic delivery stuck out from the cast.

As for the show’s technical elements, The Anastasia Trials proved that less really is more. The simple costumes and lighting design enhanced the actresses’ performances making their lines all the more riveting. Worth mentioning was how the audience seats were a part of the set —on stage, inches from the actresses— making for a one of a kind performance.

The play-ception of The Anastasia Trials makes it a production like no other— and Agnes Irwin tackled it with aplomb. Though no play can fully encapsulate the true, elusive essence of feminism, the Agnes Irwin actresses exemplified female excellence in its rawest form.

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Clue: On Stage – Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy

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Clue: On Stage by Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, PA

February 5, 2019

Review submitted by Katie Tuberosa of Cardinal O’Hara High School

Six murders, six suspects, and one plot twist that no one saw coming! Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy wasn’t playing any games with their production of Clue: On Stage. They had audiences hooked from the first moments to the shocking finale!

Clue: On Stage is based on the popular Hasbro board game made into a Paramount Pictures movie. The nefarious lives of Miss Scarlett, Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, and Mr. Green are about to be exposed by their blackmailer, Mr. Boddy. Things take a turn once Mr. Boddy is murdered. Everyone is a suspect and, with the help of Wadsworth, they must navigate the house in search of clues that lead them to Mr. Boddy’s killer.

Max Weinstein (Wadsworth) commanded the audience’s attention and drove the energy of every scene. Max’s masterful comedic skill helped him craft a memorable Wadsworth with an impeccable accent, the “regalness of a butler” and informative asides. Dori Hoffman (Miss Scarlett) was a standout among the dinner guests. Her facial expressions, cigarette smoking, and flirtatious interludes with Professor Plum brilliantly depicted the sultry Miss Scarlett.

Noah Hamermesh flawlessly portrayed the clueless Colonel Mustard. Noah managed to play dumb without overdoing it and was a crowd favorite. Rebecca Weinstein perfectly embodied Mrs. White from her dry, witty delivery of one-liners to her dark, brooding monotone. She showed a glimmer of emotion when she cried out about her rage with the iconic line, “Flames, flames.”

The dinner guests and Wadsworth had undeniable chemistry. They worked very well off each other’s energy and ad-libs in order to make the story authentic. The ensemble stayed in character from the first line through the final bows.

Senior Daniel Nahamo, the director and producer of Clue: on Stage, successfully executed a difficult show. To quote Wadsworth, “Can you keep a secret?” Well, this was Daniel Nahamo’s first show, but the audience would never know it! The stage direction and scene transitions were cleverly thought out, and the use of a small space was maximized. The stage gave the illusion of a massive, historic mansion with a myriad of doors through which Wadsworth led the suspects.

The real mystery has been solved: Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy did it with their fabulous production of Clue: On Stage in their theater.

 

Review submitted by Aurelle Odhner of Academy of the New Church

Was it Peacock in the library with the knife? Or Colonel Mustard in the study with the wrench? It must have been none other than the twenty-two cast and crew members at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy with the script of Clue: On Stage.

Clue: On Stage is one of many reincarnations of the classic board game Cluedo. Originally designed by Anthony E. Pratt in 1949, this murder mystery game made its way from Birmingham, England to the United states where it was rebranded as Clue. It has since inspired similar homicidal whodunits in every medium from mini-series to theatrical productions. A recent addition to the franchise, Clue: On Stage first premiered in May of 2017 at the Bucks County Playhouse. The puzzling plot weaves together suspense and comedy as the classic characters navigate the sinister games of their host, Mr. Boddy. As the night wears on, cadavers and accusations pile up leaving the audience guessing at every turn.

Leading the invested group of students involved in this production was the student director and producer, Daniel Nahamo, assisted by Noah Feinberg. His dramatic decisions highlighted the script’s ridiculous humor, while the actors brought a chilling reality to their impersonations of corpses. The cast’s energetic antics accompanied by well-timed technical cues left the audience laughing and screaming in equal measure.

The play’s six central suspects cooperated well as an ensemble and demonstrated an ironically vivacious energy throughout the show. Dori Hoffman, as the infamously flirtatious Miss Scarlett, stood out with her spirited performance and attention to detail, while Rivkah Wyner lent remarkable depth and expression to the more complex character of Mrs. Peacock. Eli Beaubien’s portrayal of Mr. Green added a reliable deadpan and authentic acting to an exaggeratedly comedic show.

Several dedicated actors, including Deborah Mizrachi as the Cook and Michael Grant Warshowsky as the mysterious Mr. Boddy, made amusing cameos and stayed remarkable in character in both life and death.

The production team made the most of a small stage through simple, mobile sets. Although lengthy scene changes left the audience in the dark in more ways than one, the light and sound crews executed cues with excellent timing.

Barrack Hebrew Academy’s Clue: On Stage was a thrillingly twisted tale full of laughter and horror alike.

 

 

Annie – Academy of the New Church

Annie by Academy of the New New Church in Bryn Athyn, PA

December 11, 2018

Review submitted by Julia Jennings of Upper Moreland High School

Brimming with optimism, energy, and the elegant charm of Christmastime in the city, the Academy of the New Church’s production of Annie left the audience “fully dressed” with smiles.

The classic, heartwarming holiday tale of Annie follows an enthusiastic young orphan girl who is given the chance of a lifetime to leave her dismal orphanage and spend Christmas with famous billionaire Oliver Warbucks. Things go awry when the spiteful Miss Hannigan and her brother Rooster scheme to win back Annie and the grand sum of money that comes with her. With the help of President Roosevelt, Oliver Warbucks, and his delightful assistant Grace Farrell, Annie must try to maintain her hope in “tomorrow” and find true happiness, just in time for Christmas.

Academy of the New Church brought this story to life with incredible glitz and glamour. The breathtaking set and sparkling costumes impeccably set the stage for the production’s talented and impressively well-cast actors.

Madison Zagorski brought to life the irrepressible Annie, perfectly capturing her classic youthful vigor and charm. As the somewhat gruff billionaire Oliver Warbucks, Bradley Robinson developed a heart-warming and compelling onstage chemistry with Zagorski as the performance progressed. Serena Boyeson absolutely stole the show as the conniving Miss Hannigan. Her rendition of “Easy Street” and her amazingly consistent and comedic drunken delivery were highlights of the performance.  With graceful professionalism, Camryn Buss fantastically portrayed Warbuck’s compassionate assistant, Grace Farrell. Goldendoodle Abby Nolan was also an instant audience favorite as Sandy, Annie’s loyal and lovable canine sidekick.

Hayden Hoffman displayed impressive comedic acting as the sleazy but charming Rooster. Isabelle Kline, Hanna Matsukawa, and Nicole McCurdy added to the performance their impressive vocal skill and beautiful harmonies as the Boylan sisters. Teagan Dewees seamlessly and amazingly took on the role of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt halfway through the performance. As Drake, the butler, James Gay brought incredible energy and sincerity to the production, with consistently spot-on delivery. Dance captains Aurelle and Hope Odhner wonderfully led the large ensemble through complex and challenging choreography.

But perhaps the most extraordinary element of the grand production was the magnificent set. The stage was incredibly transformed from the gloomy and simple orphanage to the glorious and shining marble halls of the Warbucks mansion to the bustling skyline of New York City, and even a remarkably accurate Oval Office, each set more amazing than the last. Likewise, the costuming was impeccable, the torn, dirty dresses of the orphans provided perfect contrast with the fantastically sparkling red bow ties and dresses of the NYC ensemble. Another excellent element of the production was the amazing array of props, including a beautiful old-fashioned wooden wheelchair and a massive and glittering Christmas tree.

ANC’s production of Annie marvelously brought to life the complexities of America during the Great Depression, both the rich splendor of the wealthy and the desolate and difficult existence of the impoverished. The optimistic, feel-good charm of the production ultimately reminded the audience that even in times of adversity and hardship, we can always have faith that the sun will come out tomorrow.

 

Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Annie at the Academy of the New Church proves that with powerful music and heartfelt joy, the influence of optimism and positivity can be stronger than any bad day, for there always will be a better “Tomorrow.”

Annie, based on the comic strips Little Orphan Annie, tells the story of the redheaded, eleven- year-old orphan of the same name.  After having a “Hard Knock Life” in a New York City orphanage, owned by the villainous Miss Hannigan, Annie receives an offer to live a brand-new life with Mr. Warbucks and Grace Farrell.  Following its Broadway debut in 1977, it remains an immensely popular show, with many performances still produced today.

The opening scene in the show revealed the seven orphans who all collaborated to create a genuine family throughout the show.  The actors demonstrated true friendship and love for each other during the hard times.  The rest of the ensemble performed memorable, large, and flashy dance numbers throughout the show, but occasionally lacked energy during group numbers.

Leading the show, Madison Zagorski represented the childish and innocent Annie amusingly.  It was evident she spent the time to collaborate with Sandy, the dog who Annie befriends during the show.  Alongside Zazgorski, Bradley Robinson as Warbucks demonstrated the businessman with such ease.  He was able to contrast the youthful demeanor of Annie with a straightforward and serious attitude.

Most noticeably, Serena Boyesen’s portrayal of Miss Hannigan was superb.  Leaving the audience begging for more, Boyesen exemplified the malicious and greedy character perfectly.  When energy dipped, she was able to capture the audience’s attention quickly, especially during “Easy Street.”  Similarly, James Gay, as Drake, interpreted the role with a unique humor.  With such poise, he stole many scenes and dance numbers through his bright smile and obvious dedication to the role.

From the opening of the curtains, the sets never disappointed.  With many intricate designs, each set piece was built and designed impeccably.  By using the fly space, the scene changes were completed relatively quickly, allowing for a spectacular reveal of each new set piece.  Also notable was the publicity and marketing team.  They used new and innovative ways to market their show with the surrounding community.

Academy of the New Church’s production of the classic musical, Annie, proves that positivity can be found even when you’re stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely.

Godspell – Archbishop John Carroll High School

Archbishop Godspell 1Godspell by Archbishop John Carroll High School in Radnor, PA

December 3, 2018

Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

“Prepare Ye” for a rock n’ rolling good time as Archbishop John Carroll High School lights up their stage for Godspell.

Godspell was first produced in 1970 with music by Stephen Schwartz and written by John-Michael Tebelak. Since then, there were many productions of Godspell, including the most recent Broadway revival in 2011 which featured an innovative and modern adaption of the story.  Godspell made its world debut Off-Broadway, telling the story of many famous parables from the Gospel of Matthew through Jesus Christ and his disciples.  The story follows Jesus and his followers to his last days and ending with the crucifixion.

On stage for a majority of the show, the Godspell Community created an enchanting atmosphere through the constant energy, even during heartbreak.  Each interaction between the cast members allowed for the drastic mood changes throughout the performance.  They continued to depict the theme of community even through the curtain call.

Leading the cast was Alex Brown as Jesus, who showed off all aspects of a triple threat while effectively progressing the story.  With each backflip, Brown captivated the audience until his very last breath, portraying the role impeccably.  His range of acting abilities supported the significant mood changes from the first to second act. Brown had a difficult task to lead the show with challenging vocals and acting demands, and he ultimately surpassed expectations and over-achieved excellence.

Kate Maginnis as Judas was a perfect contrast to Jesus.  Her facial expressions let the audiences inside her mind which illustrated the reasoning behind Judas’ decision.  Driven by Brandon Abiuso’s solo in “Light of the World”, the end of Act I had perfect energy and professionalism.  Beginning Act II, Christiana Flores, who also played Socrates, belted the sultry “Turn Back O Man” which set the tone for the rest of the show.

The intense lighting choices and designs supplemented the actors and the story, helping to comprehend the parables within the show.  Alongside the lighting, the unique stage formation allowed the actors to interact with the audience, enhancing the experience of being an audience member.  The similar style of costumes and modern take on fashion increased the viewing experience.

Building a beautiful show and community, brick by brick, and heart by heart, Archbishop John Carroll High School certainly lets their light shine through their production of Godspell.

 

Review submitted by Nina Gold of Harriton High School

“Love thy neighbor as thyself” is a timeless adage that applies to everyone, regardless of religion, race, or gender. It was this message that the students of Archbishop John Carroll High School chose to celebrate in their production of Godspell, along with the universal themes of forgiveness, friendship, and community.

Rather than following a traditional plotline, Godspell takes the audience through a series of short parables, primarily based on the Gospel of Matthew. It preaches humility, honesty, mercy, and love throughout, and concludes by depicting the crucifixion of Jesus. The musical opened on Broadway in 1971 to great critical acclaim, and has received numerous tours, adaptations, and revivals since then.

With a difficult score and exhausting physical demands, Godspell is a rigorous test of endurance (both vocally and mentally) for any school to tackle. Nevertheless, Archbishop John Carroll High School dove in with unshakable determination and thrilling enthusiasm to produce a truly delightful experience.

Alex Brown as Jesus handled the challenge of leading the cast with impressive emotional depth and remarkable stage presence. He brought a certain tenderness and warmth to the stage in songs like “Beautiful City,” and his superb vocals were matched only by his unbounded energy.  Kate Maginnis’ portrayal of Judas provided a sarcastic foil to Brown’s kinder character, and her variability shone in the honest and heartbreaking betrayal of Jesus.

The show would have been incomplete without a strong cast of supporting characters, most notably Brendon Abiuso and Christina Flores. Abiuso astounded the audience with his rock-and-roll-esque vocals and nonstop zeal in “Light of the World,” and Flores’ sultry, saucy, Fosse-inspired rendition of “Turn Back, O Man” was nothing short of electrifying. Although admittedly difficult to hear at times, the huge ensemble maintained a truly outstanding level of energy and enthusiasm, and stayed engaged from start to finish, a difficult feat for such a large number of actors.

The cast maneuvered well around a minimal set, and the technical aspects of the show served them well in their endeavor to tell their story. Everyone onstage handled minor technical difficulties in lighting and sound with professionalism and grace.

In a day and age where hate seems to be emerging from every crevice and crack in society, Archbishop John Carroll High School’s production of Godspell was a heartfelt reminder of the beauty and importance of love, forgiveness, and kindness to all.

Our Town – Friends Select School

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Our Town by Friends Select School in Philadelphia, PA

November 20, 2018

Review submitted by Rachel Tierney of Unionville High School

Although life may seem uneventfully simple in a small town, diving into the lives of its people unearths a whole new understanding of what it means to savor every moment of life.  In Friend Select’s production of Our Town, a tale of trials and tribulations presents itself through all phases of life, love, and death.

Our Town recounts the story of the quaint Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire through the lives of its citizens from 1901 to 1913.  Written by Thornton Wilder, Our Town follows the tale of two young people, Emily Webb and George Gibbs, as they mature and eventually fall in love, along with the intertwining accounts of their families and fellow citizens.  As the Stage Manager narrates, the town comes to life with the breath of its people and their endeavors.

Actors and actresses lit up the stage with every turn, pantomiming almost all of their actions.  The lack of props and set created an atmosphere with few distractions, allowing the audience to truly dive into the characters and their developing stories.  As the fourth wall is continually broken, the actors bridge the gap between theatre and reality.  With the incredible sound, lighting, costumes, and set, the productional quality of this show made a delightful performance in every aspect.

At the heart of the production were the sweet love-birds themselves: Emily Webb (Sara Kelley) and George Gibbs (Yannick Haynes).  The two actors seamlessly portrayed their challenging transition from wonderful, adolescent awkwardness to a refreshing story of love and loss in an utterly convincing manner.  Further driving this relationship along was the witty, well-spoken Stage Manager (Claire McHarg).  McHarg was responsible for narrating every little detail the audience wasn’t able to experience throughout the twelve-year period, and she did so with humor and liveliness that flawlessly tied together every piece of the characters’ puzzling lives.

Each supporting character brought a unique perspective to the stage.  Most notably was Mrs. Gibbs (Charlotte Kaplan) who portrayed the weariness and compassion of an overworked mother with eloquence and grace. Her transition from an active, animated woman to a monotoned ghost in death was chillingly phenomenal.  Other memorable performances included the physical and vocal acting of Mr. Webb (Avery Johnson) who created a delightfully humorous atmosphere, as well as Rebecca Gibbs (Poli Sotnik-Platt) who lovingly played the nagging younger sister figure every audience finds endearing.

Technically, the production was stunning.  Lights and sound (by Kitty Holder) worked together in perfect harmony, never missing a beat.  Although there were a few mic issues towards the beginning, the crew quickly overcame them in an overall outstanding performance.

Our Town is meant to examine the importance of companionship and living “two-by-two,” and Friends Select did not disappoint.

 

Review submitted by Meghan McCloskey of Unionville High School

Through brilliant portrayals of comedy, romance, and tragedy, Friends Select School’s production of Our Town was, for the most part, incredibly entertaining.

Written by Thornton Wilder in 1938, Our Town transports audiences to the fictional town of Grover’s Corners. The Stage Manager makes the story unfold by frequently breaking the fourth wall to bridge the gap between reality and fiction, clarify the plot, and engulf the audience into the charming and timeless town. As the tragic love story of Emily Webb and George Gibb plays out, the production depicts the lives of the unique townspeople and tells the tale of love, loyalty, and lost time.

The show is undoubtedly a hefty challenge; however, it is a challenge that Friends Select School rose to admirably. The cast and crew’s portrayal of Grover’s Corners was immensely successful.

Sara Kelley was flawlessly convincing as the love-stricken Emily Webb. Her interpretation of a woman who dies in a state of desperation for more time with her family was nothing short of breathtaking. Performing beside her in an equally jaw-dropping manner was Yannick Haynes. He played George Gibbs, Emily Webb’s love interest, with hilarious accuracy. The duo beautifully expressed the realistic and awkward anxieties that come with young love and the heartbreaking and painful nostalgia that follow the death of a loved one.

Charlotte Kaplan’s rendition of Mrs. Gibbs was exceptionally believable. Her natural and genuine acting made her character come to life and further enhanced the town Grover’s Corners. Additionally, Avery Johnson commendably combined humor and heart in his performance as Mr. Webb. His calm demeanor and precise comedic timing were highlights of the show. While these actors performed with coherence and eloquence.

A notable achievement of the evening was Kitty Holder’s impeccable sound. Every sound effect was timed to perfection, and there was only one microphone error throughout the entire production. The sets were minimalistic and beautiful, and the actors mimed some set pieces that otherwise would have made the stage look busy and crowded. Costumes, hair, and makeup were authentic and excellently reflected the simplistic aura of the fictional town. Every single technical aspect of the show was outstanding.

Overall, Friends Select School’s production of Our Town jaw-droppingly blended feelings of community, joy, and heartbreak. After exceptional performances, the cast and crew did an incredible job conveying the moral of the story: that there is an exceptional amount of beauty even in the days that may seem insignificant.

The Miracle Worker – Conestoga High School

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The Miracle Worker by Conestoga High School in Berwyn, PA

November 20, 2018

Review submitted by Phoebe Barr of Episcopal Academy

The story of Helen Keller, of a blind and deaf child who grew to be a prolific author and activist, is compelling in its own right.  The Miracle Worker delivers the powerful tale of the once-blind governess Annie Sullivan who teaches Helen language. With first-rate design and impressive talent, Conestoga High School brought this dual narrative to life.

Helen Keller’s world is defined by loneliness. She wants to communicate with those around her, especially her loving family, but she doesn’t know how. Only one person is patient enough to teach her and to discipline her like a seeing and hearing child: Annie Sullivan, a young Yankee woman eager to escape her past and to prove herself. Despite initially clashing, Annie persists to reach Helen’s brilliant mind in the end.

The show’s most defining characteristic was its polish. The student-designed sets were beautifully built, the lighting transitions were smooth, and the actors were clear and loud. The two leads, Annie (Tara Moon) and Helen (Sasha Reeder) had striking stage presence, Moon lending great gravitas to her role and Reeder conveying impressive depth of character without speaking a word or even looking at her fellow performers. Their chemistry ranged from hilarious to heartfelt and was certainly the highlight of the play.

The supporting cast, mostly comprised of Helen’s family, expanded the show’s theme of communication. Helen’s father (JP Infortuna) and brother James (Thomas Simmons) fought because of their inability to understand each other; Helen’s mother (Brookelyn McAllister), meanwhile, lamented her inability to reach Helen. The father’s stiff, uncompromising nature clashed humorously with the young, ambitious Annie, and James’ sarcastic remarks livened every family scene. Each family member helped support the central story, and each actor took to their part with gusto.

The technical elements of the show were especially strong. A multi-story house complete with a working water pump dominated the stage, with a shed serving as a smaller set for key scenes. The lighting and the music, most noticeable in Annie’s flashback scenes, immersed the audience further in the story. The Conestoga Set Building Crew was made up of more than sixty students, and it showed.

The Miracle Worker tells a touching story, one that inspires blind and deaf, seeing and hearing alike. However, it was the effort of Conestoga’s cast and crew, their skillful sets, lighting, costumes, and performances, that ultimately allowed the show to touch the audience, as well.

 

Review submitted by Olivia Cipperman of Episcopal Academy

How do we connect with, and make a difference in, the world? For deaf and blind child Helen Keller, the question seems to have no answer. Nevertheless, Helen yearns to solidify her understanding of every person and object she encounters. Everything “has a name,” and Helen has agency, if only she can discover how to express it.

William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker documents Annie Sullivan’s efforts to bring language into Helen Keller’s world. In the process, Annie works to prove her own personal worth. Annie and Helen ultimately empower each other to claim agency over a world that wants to deny it because of their gender and disabilities. Annie accomplishes something that, by all accounts, seems a miracle: Helen learns the meaning of language, and the Keller family learns to value their daughter’s personhood and individuality.

Conestoga High School’s production shined in its crisp choreography and stellar technical design. Sequences of physical struggle between Annie and Helen were embodied through visceral force of the emotional struggle between and within both characters. The set consisted mainly of the Keller house, which student technicians designed and built with precision and historical accuracy.  A working water pump sat in the forefront of the stage which provided both the key to Helen’s understanding of language and an immersive effect for the audience.

Tara Moon as Annie Sullivan effectively presented a levelheaded yet inexperienced mentor to Helen Keller. Sasha Reeder as Helen provided an astonishingly convincing performance, even without the use of speech. Her physical acting demonstrated Helen’s frustration and impish spirit, and she left no holds barred in her tantrums and fights with Annie.

The supporting cast bolstered the performances of the leads. The Keller family provided thematically consistent subplots and some much-needed humor. The comic timing and brassy bluster of Captain Keller (JP Infortuna) contrasted well with the desperate, quiet sincerity of his wife, Kate (Brookelyn McAllister). James Keller (Thomas Simmons) provided a snarky contrast to his more courteous parents.

The show ran neatly – an impressive feat, given the number of vases broken, food hurled, and spoons thrown. The costuming allowed The Miracle Worker the feeling of a rich period piece, and attention to color (such as Kate’s affinity for red, or Helen’s for blue) subtly differentiated the personalities of the characters.

Conestoga High School put on a polished production of a simple, strong story in The Miracle Worker. Its technical prowess was truly commendable, and its actors took to their roles with finesse.

The Sea Voyage – Phoenixville Area High School

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The Sea Voyage by Phoenixville High School in Phoenixville, PA

November 20, 2018

Review submitted by Mable Peach of Haverford High School

With a commonwealth of courageous women, a band of foolish Frenchmen, and a pack of smooth talking pirates, Phoenixville Area High School’s production of The Sea Voyage brought audiences into the heart of the Jacobean era.

This drama, originally written in 1622 by John Fletcher and Philip Massinger, was adapted for the high school by Rachael Joffred, a local dramaturg. With several allusions to Shakespearean dramas, The Sea Voyage portrays a more classical style of play with one exception: the gender roles are completely reversed. When a tempestuous storm leaves a group of French pirates shipwrecked on a mysterious island, the men struggle to survive. The island, however, happens to be inhabited by a pack of skilled women. The two groups meet, a love triangle ensues, and wits are put to the test.

Demanding maturity from its cast, The Sea Voyage is abound with complex language and thematic challenges. The cast of Phoenixville Area High School stood up to the challenge with poise and skill, presenting a well-executed and cleverly performed show.

As the only woman outside of the island’s commonwealth of women, Rachel Nolen’s portrayal of Aminta displayed emotional complexity and artistry. Her performance clearly exhibited the propriety and composure of European women of the time. Alek Wasserman portrayed smooth talking, impetuous Frenchman Albert. Wasserman developed a dynamic character during the show, angering audiences with Albert’s unfaithful nature and pleasantly surprising them with his change of heart.

The ensemble of Amazonian women, headed by Charis Singletary as Rosella and Morgan Bieler as Clarinda, lit up the stage with their assertive personalities and gripping stage combat. Another notable ensemble was the trio of foolish Frenchmen, with Brennan Becker as Lamure, Connor Hesse as Morillat, and Jack Kramer as Franville. With impeccable comedic timing and a flare for the dramatic, the actors certainly proved that good comedy comes in threes.

A minimalistic set lent itself to interpretation, while lighting designed by Mark Thompson evoked the mood of each scene. Though several microphone cues were missed, the sound crew did well to work a show with such a large number of speaking roles.

The Phoenixville Area High School cast performed a truly great rendition of The Sea Voyage, proving the relevance of 17th-century commentary in the modern era.

 

Review submitted by Anna Bobok of Upper Merion Area High School

Being shipwrecked in the Happy Islands may sound like paradise, but for the outrageous characters in Phoenixville Area High School’s The Sea Voyage, it’s anything but!

Following Shakespeare’s death, several playwrights brought their stories to his acting company, including John Fletcher and Philip Massinger. These two writers collaborated on The Sea Voyage, taking similar themes and archetypes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and presenting them in a comedic way. The story follows a band of shipwrecked French pirates who find themselves in the midst of a community of Amazon-like women that despise men. Plot twists, mix-ups, and hilarity ensue as the two groups try to come together despite their differences.

Phoenixville’s cast breathed new life into the nearly four hundred-year-old text with ease, using physical acting and expression to help the early modern English jokes come across to a new audience. This was especially noticeable in the performance by the three French fools, played by Brennan Becker (Lamure), Jack Kramer (Franville), and Connor Hesse (Morillat). Their over-the-top personalities came across even when they were not center stage, with brilliant pantomime that sometimes grabbed the audience’s attention from the main action.

Alek Wasserman (Albert) was quick to grab that attention back, however, as his commanding stage presence and charming portrayal of the lovesick pirate produced compelling moments of both comedy and drama. Another driving force of the drama was Rachel Nolen (Aminta). She captured her character’s intensity and strength perfectly, displaying heartache, jealousy, and utter despair with unparalleled emotion.

The women of the island also created distinct and convincing characters on the stage, despite their limited lines. Stand out performances from Logan Breunig (Crocale), Kyra Bernotas (Juletta), and Sophie Sullivan (Hippolyta) established the community as a united group of powerful women. Their moments of fight choreography were well done and helped lend to their characterizations of tough and assertive women.

Mark Thompson’s lighting design was sophisticated and compelling, as he brought a lightning storm and a lush forest to the stage with near professional quality. These atmospheres were further enhanced by a minimalistic yet beautiful set, managed by Camryn Dobey and Lexi Vazquez. Transitioning between these sets were Rachel Wasserman, Halee Reiman, and Sullivan Nowak, who made quick work of the scene transitions and helped the show continue smoothly.

Phoenixville’s rendition of Fletcher and Massinger’s comedy ensures that this Sea Voyage is an adventure that audiences will not soon forget!