A warm, nostalgic look at a close-knit Norwegian family in 1910 San Francisco is offered by Chantilly High in its upcoming production of "I Remember Mama." A drama, it will be presented Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 1-3.
Shows are at 7:30 p.m., plus a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. Special lobby pre-show activities will start 45 minutes before Thursday's performance, which is Chantilly's Cappie show. Tickets are $5; call 703-222-8182.
"It's a classic show that hasn't been done in this area for awhile, and it's a nice story for the whole family," said drama director Ed Monk. "We have many fine senior actresses, this year. I wanted to find something special for them for their last performance, and this play has lots of nice parts for girls."
He said the 29 cast and crew members are doing a nice job and, although the play is old-fashioned in some ways, all the storylines are still relevant today. And the slanted stage designed by students Katie Beans and Meggie O'Connor gives it an original twist. Explained Monk: "The play's all told in past tense through a daughter's memories, so I wanted the set to have a quality of memory and dream to it."
Portraying Mama, in her mid-40s, is senior Emily Bever, 18, who says her character is both hard and loving. "She doesn't let her kids — [one son and three daughters] — or her sisters get away with anything," said Bever. "She knows what has to be done and she does it. Sometimes, she doesn't do the most practical things — but that's rare and it's for the good of her children. For example, she sells an heirloom locket to buy a graduation present."
Not surprisingly, Mama's also stubborn. "If she thinks something's the right thing to do, she'll do it, even if she's wrong," said Bever. "She's definitely in charge of the family, and it's very loving and supportive." Other members include Mama's Uncle Chris and her three sisters.
"It's been a wonderful experience playing her," said Bever. "She's a great character because she feels everything that's happening, but doesn't let it show, so there's a conflict. And the family's a lot like mine in their loving relationships and the way the parents encourage their children."
The toughest part, she said, is finding that line between sternness and love, and showing that, although strict, Mama enjoys her life. She said the best part is "the way she takes charge without worrying what her sisters will say, and she says what she thinks." Bever says the audience will like the play because it shows everyday events in people's lives and the relationships between family members "that you might otherwise not notice or take for granted."
Papa is played by senior Ryan Plavnieks, 17, who says his character is stern when necessary, no-nonsense, but soft inside. "He's fair and a good dad," he said. "He's a carpenter who works hard, loves his kids and is always looking out for the family and doing whatever it takes to keep them fed."
It's his first time to do a Norwegian accent, and he noted that "W"s are pronounced like "V"s, so that he says "vat?" for "what?" as well as "ting" for "thing." He said it's a fun role to play because Papa has "random, funny lines, now and then, and provides comic relief" and he enjoys portraying such a different character.
Senior Katie Poandl, 18, plays the oldest daughter Katrin, from ages 12-18. "She's very dramatic and kind of in her own, little world," she said. "She makes up stories about everything. So she sometimes does selfish things because she's not thinking about the effect they'd have on other people. But she loves her family and is always sorry about hurting anybody."
The play shows some of the most important moments in the family's life, and Katrin narrates. "It's my memories, years later," said Poandl. "I've written stories about my family for my career as a writer." She said it's challenging to illustrate her character's different ages and react to things accordingly and it gives her a better understanding of her own older sister.
Poandl said everyone can relate to "I Remember Mama," the quibbling that goes on" between family members and the issues that all families discuss. "And the set looks really cool," she added. Portraying the middle daughter, Christine, is sophomore Meredith Lynch, 15. "She's probably the most responsible daughter and acts like the oldest," she said. "She cares a lot about what happens to her family. She's aware that they're not rich, and she thinks Katrin is selfish because she always wants new things. She's also stubborn."
It's Lynch's first drama at Chantilly, so she's excited to be in it. "I'm learning to be more of a self-contained character and not over-the-top like in [Chantilly's] children's shows," she said. The toughest part, she said, is not being happy all the time, because her character is so serious. But she likes her role because "it's like a real person."
Melissa Klein, 16, plays Aunt Jenny, Mama's oldest sister. "She's really mean, bossy, snobby, strict and stuck-up, and she does everything her way," said Klein. "But she's actually fun to play because, in real life, you wouldn't act that way. And it's fun to show that anger. It's something you can really work with."
Playing Dagmar, the youngest daughter, 6 or 7, is senior Meg Baxter, 17. "She's in love with life — she loves animals and her family and is curious about the world," she said. "Throughout the play, she's obsessed with her dog, Elizabeth, and she's such a likeable character."
Mike Wilbur, 15, plays the son, Nels. "His sisters pester him a lot, and he used to be in with the bad crowd of 1910 San Francisco," he said. "But one night, when his friends got caught breaking into a store, he wasn't with them because he was home with his family."