High school theater is alive and kicking

One of my favorite lines from the 1938 classic Frank Capra screwball comedy, “You Can’t Take it with You,” has got to come from the Russian dance teacher, Kolenkhov, when he declares, “I feel so good, life is running around inside of me like a squirrel!”

Spoken through a thick Russian accent, it pretty much sums up how life runs as a matter of course in the Vanderhoff/Sycamore household he visits regularly. Everyone does as they please, following their own bent, making just enough money to serve frankfurters to company for supper, while not feeling the least ashamed, and living as one, big, caring family. It’s on my top 10 list of favorite feel-good films, and earned an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director.

I could scarcely believe the providential line-up when I glimpsed in Tempo that the North Medford High School drama troupe, Black Tornado Theatre, would perform one last showing of the play by the same name in time for me to see it. Written in 1937 by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, it took home the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year. Clearly, the storyline of a madcap family of lovable, kooky folks still resonates with humanity. 

I hate to admit it, but I set my expectations fairly low for the event. Admittedly, it had been quite a stretch since I’d watched a high school play, but suspected I would overlook the same exaggerated, overly intoned voice styles and flat deliveries I remembered. But it would be endearing, nonetheless, and I was curious to see how they would treat this gem. Sorry kids, was I ever wrong. These talented young people put me in my place, which for a couple of hours, found me grinning and chuckling in the dark of their intimate, on-campus theater.

I noticed the perfection of the set right off. It was the living room of excesses. Too many pictures on the wall, too many odds and ends representing various eclectic interests, and one real snake played by Lenny. It was over the top enough and in all the right ways.

I recognized the characters as they made their entrance, and enjoyed watching the various handlings of the lovable personalities. Particularly memorable for me were Carmen Koehler as Penny Sycamore, Zoe Jones as Alice Sycamore, Jazzlynn Ross as Rheba, Kate Lunnen as Olga Katrina, and Mason Rudesheim as Grandpa Vanderhoff, who did not overdo the age bit with a predictable doddering old guy with cane and voice like a rusty pipe. His patriarchal character was consistent and convincing, not an easy ask for a teenager. Mekhi Richardson also deserves kudos for a great Russian accent. “It stinks!” You had to be there.

After the cast had taken its final bow and bestowed red roses on everyone involved with the production, I spoke briefly with the students' drama teacher, Sharon Bigelow, who shared the same spark and enthusiasm as the kids. I’m certain she must be a huge part of why they all seemed to be having a ridiculous amount of fun, like the family they portrayed. I asked whether the students had seen the film, and she said she thought not. I offered her my copy for them to watch, but by now I’m sure they have their sights set on “My Fair Lady,” which will hit the Sjolund Stage in April.

Most of us who love local theater are well acquainted with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Cabaret Theater, Camelot and Randall, but I look forward to another production from the sincerely dedicated young people of our area, like those involved at North Medford High. Thanks for a great evening.  

— Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. Email her at pcdover@hotmail.com.

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