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Student casts tackle heavy topics in one act plays

Austin Boreen, 17, struggles to comprehend the school massacre in Newtown, Ct. in "26 Pebbles." Park High School Theater will perform the play at the District One Act Festival at the Loft Stage. William Loeffler / RiverTown multimedia1 / 3
Alex Fischer, an 11th-grader at East Ridge High School, plays a marine serving in Vietnam in "Women and War." The cast will perform the play at the District One Act Festival and in the state one act play competition. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
William Hallock and Haley Schwab are among the cast of "26 Pebbles," which Park High School Theater will perform at the District One Act Play Festival at the Loft Stage and later in the state one act play competition. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

This year's District One Act Festival features a trio of decidedly downbeat plays from Park, East Ridge and Woodbury high schools.

"They tend to be that way, I think, because a lot of times, in a high school setting, you don't get to do all those types of heavy shows," said Leah Jensen, director of East Ridge's one-act "Women and War."

The Jan. 19 showcase at the Loft Stage will give friends and family the chance to see the plays that each school has entered in this year's Minnesota State High School League One-Act Play Competition. The section 3AA preliminaries are Jan. 24 at Park High School.

"The one act competition is one place where you can do some of those dramatic shows," Jensen said.

Park High School supervising director Denise Atkinson said dramatic entries seem to be taken, well, more seriously by the judges.

"They generally have more impact in competition," she said in an email. "In addition, comedy and comedic timing is very difficult to do. So if you have a young cast who doesn't have the comic experience, you are generally better off choosing a more serious show."

In their 27 years of competition, Park has performed 16 dramas and 11 comedies, Atikinson said.

Women and War

"Women and War" features the testimony of nurses, soldiers, mothers and daughters who are impacted by war.

Through letters and monologues, these women and men struggle with loss, separation, fear and grief. Playwright Jack Hilton Cunningham created fictional characters who deliver grim and moving emotional truths. They include a nurse who served in the Vietnam War to a Gold Star mother to an Iraq War veteran. For some, the struggle is on the home front, Jensen said.

"There are women writing to husbands who are at war and dealing with that separation," she said. "There's quite a few monologues about women who were in the war zone who were not necessarily in combat positions."

26 Pebbles

Park High School will perform "26 Pebbles," a docudrama that explores the aftermath of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct. Playwright Eric Ulloa based his play on interviews with members of the community five months after the massacre. The result is presented as a sort of town hall meeting in which the citizens of Newtown describe how the event changed them and their town.

"A lot of people think this show is about the shooting itself, but it's how Newtown rebuilt itself after this horrible event," actor Haley Schwab, 17, said.

The play is co-directed by Quinn Forrest Masterson and Lewis Youngren of Hastings. Youngren said it's vital that the tragedy of Newtown is not forgotten.

"It's been pushed to the background," Youngren said. "People have normalized it."

Austin Boreen, 17, plays Joe, a former art teacher at Sandy Hook. Like the others, he struggles between honoring the memory of the 20 children and six adults who were gunned down and getting on with his own life.

"One of the biggest challenges for me is not going over the top," Boreen said. "I love to act in farce and throw my arms around. It's hard to dial it back and be a real person."

The cast held a candlelight vigil on Dec. 14, which was the five-year anniversary of the massacre.

Antigone

Woodbury High School will present "Antigone," a modern adaptation of the tragedy by the playwright Sophocles. The title character is a young woman who risks death to provide an honorable burial for Polyneices, one of two of her brothers who were killed in the Thebes civil war.

Director Marcie Berglund is using a script written by Meagan Kedrowski for a production by Theatre Coup d'etat in Minneapolis.

"She had been kind enough to cut it down for us big time,"Berglund said, referring to the play's time limit of 35 minutes. "I particularly like this adaptation because it talks a little bit more about the humanity of the characters," Berglund said. "It focuses on how they grew up as a family together."

The body of Polyneices is left to rot outside the gates of the city. Antigone is determined to bury him so his soul can be at rest, but her quest arouses the wrath of Creon, her uncle and the ruler of Thebes.

"It's about the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law," Berglund said. "He decides he has to follow the letter of the law."

For Antigone, it's the moral spirit of the law that's important. It wouldn't be giving anything away to say that it doesn't end well for her. It is a Greek tragedy, after all.

If you go:

The District One Act Festival runs 7 p.m., Jan. 19 at the Loft Stage at East Ridge High School, 4200 Pioneer Drive in Woodbury. Tickets are $5. Park High School will present "26 Pebbles"; Woodbury High School will present "Antigone"; and East Ridge High School will present "Women and War."

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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