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Dramapalooza on Stage at Centreville High

Students direct four, unusual one-act plays.

Centreville High's student-directed, one-act play festival, Dramapalooza, is always something special, and this year's event carries on the tradition.

THE PLAYS ARE: "Why I Am a Bachelor," "Among Friends and Clutter," "Cannibalism in the Cars" and "Deathtrap." Showtimes are Friday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 24, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $3/advance and $5/door.

"It's a good choice of shows, and I think the audience will like them," said Mike Hudson, the Theater Department's technical director and the man in charge of the event. "And since there are only four this year, the audience will be able to see them all in one sitting."

He said the student directors — all seniors — had to meet certain criteria before they could apply to direct. "They've taken theater all four years and covered directing in their Theater IV class," said Hudson. "And this gives those students who think they have a penchant for this the chance to display their talent and creativity."

The students selected their own shows and the concepts behind them. And Hudson said it's a learning experience for the fledgling directors because "they get to see the production from the 'dark side' — all the background work that goes into it. I've had a lot of kids say, 'Gee, now I understand why you or [theater director Mark] Rogers said that.'"

Casting is also an intense matter for them, said Hudson, because "they have to choose the best actors for the cast, and not just their friends." And next year's student directors are already waiting in the wings. Said Hudson: "We're preparing two juniors who are writing two original plays for next year's production."

Meanwhile, this year's plays are as follows:

<sh>Among Friends and Clutter

<bt>Directed by Ashley Whitehead, 17, this play is a serio-comic, ensemble piece. It revolves around the lives of seven people from childhood to adulthood, through all their life transitions.

Said Whitehead: "They experience situations with family, friends and love and are able to learn through the clutter of life that it's friends that make life meaningful." It's her first time directing, and she's enjoying it.

"Instead of being told what to do, you're the one who gets to determine everything," she explained. "So it's my vision; I have to create it." Whitehead said it can be difficult "putting your interpretation on the stage and making it like reality," but she's glad to have the chance to try.

"I can make the show my own because everything I do is my idea, and it's really cool to see it come to life," she said. "I think the audience will really like it because it's a heartwarming piece. It shows that, even though there are good and bad moments in life, it's worth living."

Sophomore Nora Eways, 15, plays second-grader Joanne. "She's the annoying, obnoxious girl who gets on everybody's nerves," said Eways. "I kind of feel bad for her because no one likes her; she's all alone. But I think she put herself in that position."

LATER ON, she plays Joanne in her 20s, nervous about going on a blind date. "She's totally different from when she's a kid," said Eways. "And then when she's older, she's depressed because she doesn't have anybody."

Junior Jeff Stein, 17, plays the eccentric Icabod in second grade, in high school and later as an English teacher. "He shows his eccentricity through his reactions to what's going on around him and his responses to people talking to him," explained Stein.

Getting Icabod's voice just right is the hardest part, said Stein, because "he's kind of a nerd and has to scream like a girl at one point." But he loves his role because "he's a fun character to be."

Freshman Marie Mangano portrays second-grader Ashley, the popular girl. But when she's older, said Mangano, "She's kinda weird; for her wedding, she wants to do something wacky. Then she has a drinking problem in middle age, but gets through it." She, too, likes her character because she's interesting and talks about how her friends helped her surmount every obstacle.

Taylor DeVito, 16, plays Katherine Green. "She's quirky, sort of like me," said DeVito. "She likes plants and I like nature, so I can relate and it works." DeVito said Green's nerdy voice is also difficult because she has to maintain it throughout the play and "it squeaks sometimes."

But she loves her character's outfit. "She wears a baggy sweater with a fanny pack, and it's really me," said DeVito. "It's awesome."

Junior Jessica Belden portrays Melissa Koziol, one of the more normal characters in this play. "She's girly and wants to grow up really fast," said Belden. "She's kissing boys on the playground and wants to get married at 18."

In her mid-30s, her now-married character reflects on her life and wonders, "Why is forever so short when you're 11 years old?" Belden said it refers to "losing touch with friends as you grow up, and not knowing why. "I like my character a lot," she said. "She's really excited about being a girl and growing up, and she's fun to play."

<sh>Why I Am a Bachelor

<bt>Ali Robinson, 17, directs this play about a lecturer who illustrates married life to his audience via living demonstrations. Said Robinson: "There are scenes of loving moments and arguments — the ups and downs of marriage — the rollercoaster ride."

She described the play as a funny, lighthearted comedy that "gives the audience a front-row seat to observe married life. The wife has a noisy mother, aunt and sister so, for the husband, it's four against one."

Robinson says directing is "definitely a challenge. [The actors] are your friends, too, so you don't want to be too overbearing, but you still want to have that authority. So it's a balancing act, but it's fun."

What surprised her most about directing, she said, is that "you don't just control the actors' moves on stage, you control the whole production and all the technical aspects. For example, the techie won't just turn on the light; you have to tell him to do it."

ROBINSON believes her play will be well-received because "it pokes fun at all the crazy things of married life — especially things that get blown out of proportion. And the twist at the end will leave everyone laughing and wanting more."

Portraying the lecturer is junior Nate Betancourt, who tells his audience why he's a bachelor and why marriage can be dangerous. "He says it changes people and it's not worth it," said Betancourt. "But he calls himself an expert on marriage because he believes you can't expect married people to be honest about what they're going through."

Betancourt likes his role because "I actually thought this way and know the benefits of bachelorhood. And the lecturer is successful at life. He knows married life so well through his friends' experience." Betancourt said the toughest part for him is knowing when to be sarcastic and when to be serious, but he likes his character's charisma.

As for the play, he anticipates that the audience members will have had friends who've "tried to set them up [with others] and know the problems that can come with that. The message is enjoy life — you don't need marriage to do it."

<sh>Deathtrap

<bt>Directed by Grant Diamond, 16, this play has "a juicy murder in act one and unexpected developments throughout," he said. "It's a comedy-thriller set in Connecticut and is about a struggling playwright who receives a potentially excellent new play and plots to kill that playwright so he can claim that play as his own."

Andrew Kaberline portrays the murderous playwright, Sidney Bruhl, and Tande Berry plays his wife Myra. PJ Rechter is the young playwright, and Lauren Vick is Helga Ten Dorp, the Swedish "psychic" with mysterious powers and a penchant for pointing out murderers.

As a director, said Diamond, "Watching your completed work is fun to see, but actually getting there isn't as much fun as acting. Because you're directing your friends, the hardest part is keeping things professional and being able to yell at them when necessary. But I enjoy being able to insert comedy into the script where it wasn't there before."

Kaberline, 17, describes his character as "really nutty. He's been failing in his profession so long, he's gone off the deep end. It's a lot of fun because he's really sarcastic like me. And although I've played villains before, I haven't done a loud and animated one, like this one, so it's something new."

<sh>Cannibalism in the Cars

<bt>Sophomore Zach Schebish, who portrays a congressman named Sloate, calls this play a parody of the U.S. political system. It's the turn of the century, and the train carrying a group of somewhat shady congressmen to Washington, D.C., gets stuck in a snowdrift.

"There's no food on this train and they're in the middle of nowhere, so they have to put aside their differences — both political and moral — to survive by any means necessary," explained Schebish. "Sloate's a very obnoxious Republican who's constantly getting into arguments and butting heads with a Democrat named Adams."

PLAYING SLOATE is fun, he said, because "he's so over-the-top and something you couldn't be in reality. And the time period is so different that everything's a huge deal to them." Schebish is a strong advocate of the Democratic party so, he said, "Playing an obnoxious Republican is an interesting and different change in perspective. And there's a lot of subtext and comparison to congressmen throughout history and in modern day, in the way they've never gotten along — except this has more of a comic, over-the-topness to it. I think it'll be a crowd favorite because it's funny, witty, interesting and energetic; and it applies to today and never gets boring."

Directing this one-act is Justin Kenney, 17. Being a director, he said, "You have to make more choices, and a lot has to do with organizational skills and being able to be a leader. The hardest part is learning how to assert yourself."

Best of all, he said, is "getting to explore my ideas, but without any obstruction because I'm the boss. I get to experiment with what I have, and not a lot of people get to do that."

What surprised Kenney about directing is "the amount of work that has to go into it. You have to worry about the set, teching, everybody's performances and their choices [about portraying] their characters, and deciding how the story's going to be told." As for the play, he said, "The audience will find it humorous. It's different from things I've seen performed in the Centreville one-acts. This is more out-of-the-box than usual."