A creative script, imaginative costuming and a talented group of actors proved to be a recipe for success for Chantilly High at the VHSL one-act play competition.
The theater team captured first place last Thursday, Jan. 25, at Herndon High in the Concorde District championship. Seven schools total competed, with Herndon coming in second, and Westfield High, third.
CHANTILLY PERFORMED "Day Six," written by its Theater Director Ed Monk, about creation and the day God created people. "This play brings up philosophical and religious questions, but in a silly way," he said. "The kids did a really nice job with it and we got a good response from the crowd."
In addition, Chantilly's Jake Ashey was chosen Best Actor and Kendra McCullough was honored for designing the Best Costumes. Chantilly and Herndon will now vie in the regionals, Feb. 10, at Herndon High. Eight schools — two from each of the four districts — will compete, with the top two advancing to states.
Chantilly had a cast of 20 and crew of 14, and schools were judged on characterization, articulation, interpretation, movement, timing, casting, tempo and realization of the playwright's intent. For their victory, the whole cast and crew received patches, and McCullough, Ashey and the school got plaques.
In "Day Six," said Monk, "God was so busy creating the universe that He had committees working on creating the different animals. And since people were the most important, no one wanted to be on that committee because, if they screwed up, God would get mad at them. So it winds up with a bunch of knuckleheads and slackers — which sort of explains how we all turned out the way we did."
Noting that people are supposed to be in God's image, Monk said they don't always act that way, and his play offers an explanation. And the committee also faces other problems. "They have to figure out how to get new people," said Monk. "And things get complicated between men and women because the people on the committee weren't terribly bright. Then they have to answer to God and tell Him why people are so messed up."
Senior Meghan Griffith, 17, played God. "It was intimidating," she said. "I felt like there was only one way to do it — because it's God. I didn't want to offend anybody or come short of people's expectations."
Dressed as a businesswoman in a sharp, white suit, she portrayed God as all-knowing and on edge. But she got frustrated with her assistant Gabrielle, who kept pushing her to make decisions because of the approaching deadline. Said Griffith: "Because there are only six days of creation, Gabrielle has to keep God on track."
Saying, "You don't get to play God every day," Griffith said she really enjoyed her role. And she was excited to win because "it was my first competition, and I didn't see it coming."
SHE BELIEVES Chantilly won because of its "strong assets — actors, props, sets, costume design" — and a well-paced script. "There's joke after joke," she said. "But you don't miss the next one while laughing at the one before."
Playing archangel Gabrielle was senior Chloe West, 17. "I played her as if God was a businesswoman and I was Her secretary, diligently taking notes. "I was sort of the smart kid in class, correcting God if She made a factual error," explained West. "For example, if God said Columbus discovered America in 1493, I'd say '1492,' but I didn't want to anger God — kind of like in a parent-child relationship."
She said part of the script showed them going through a list of unfinished things, like black holes, dark matter and wondering if a platypus was a mammal. "But because it all takes place on the sixth day, there's a rushed feeling that we have to do this or the universe won't be finished in time," said West. "So God decides to skip these things and come back to them later. And that's the joke — because scientists today are still trying to figure out these things."
She enjoyed her role because she had lots of freedom to "play around with Gabrielle because not a lot of people know what he [Gabriel] was like." And she attributes Chantilly's victory not only to "a really well-written and directed script by Mr. Monk, but also to the character portrayals.
""In a one-act, which is just 30 minutes, it's easy to play the characters for laughs," said West. "But Mr. Monk emphasized to us to make the characters real, and then the laughs will come. And I think that had a huge impact on why we won. If we believe in our characters, the audience will, too — which is basically what acting is."
Senior Jake Ashey, 17, played an angel named Nick. "He's a naive, corporation nobody who got suckered into being the chairman of the committee on creating human beings," he explained. "But because they're made in God's image, there's so much pressure that every angel assigned to the committee gives the job to some stupid angel — someone looking for a promotion, but not understanding the magnitude of the situation."
Nick was previously working with the warthog division, so he sees this as a step up in his career. But if he gets things wrong, he'll be turned into a pillar of salt. Ashey said this role was a big challenge and he liked the play a lot.
"The entire cast was incredibly devoted, talented and hardworking," he said. "I was overwhelmed [with our victory] because I've been anticipating this performance for so long, and I really feel we did our best." As for being selected Best Male Actor, out of all the plays presented, he said, "I worked really hard at my part and put a lot into it, so it was really gratifying to receive that kind of recognition."
Kendra McCullough, 17 and a senior, designed the costumes and played one of the human prototypes. "They modeled me after the black widow spider," she said. "They were figuring out mating habits, and I was a seductress. At first, I didn't think I could do it — because it wasn't me, at all — but it was actually really fun to do."
As costume designer, she said, "Putting on the wings was a challenge because they were on straps and you had to make sure the straps didn't show. She was nominated for a Cappie in that category for 'Auntie Mame' and was excited about her award for Best Costumes for "Day Six."
Said McCullough: "I think the designs were different than [the judges] expected. For example, the angels wore blue gowns, not white togas, and I had the idea to have God wear a pantsuit."
REGARDING CHANTILLY'S chances in the regionals, West said the cast only had one dress rehearsal the day before the district performance "so we have a lot of work to do and kinks to work out. But I hope we'll pull through and get a big W."
Added Griffith: "Mr. Monk says, as long as we do our best, he'll be proud of us. But it's a crapshoot, depending on the judges." Ashey said it's also important to entertain the audience, and "we hope to give them a good 30 minutes of their time."
"I'm really nervous because I'm really competitive," said McCullough. "But I think we'll do well — especially considering the audience's reaction last time."