By Charlie Cohen
Do names The Lottery and Handicapper General ring a bell? That’s because you most likely read these short stories in your English class sophomore year. This past weekend, the Varley Players put on their third and final show of the year. It was a series of four, senior directed, one-act plays: Rabbit by David Foxton, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, The Handicapper General by Kurt Vonnegut, and Kaleidoscope by Ray Bradbury. They were performed on Friday and Saturday. As someone who took part in ¾ of these plays, I can say that these plays were unlike anything I have ever been in. Each of the plays was based on futuristic and/or utopian vs dystopian concepts.
The first play performed, directed by Elena Robustelli, Vanessa Robustelli, and Mr. Gulick, was Foxton’s Rabbit. Rabbit is about a group of kids, ten years after a nuclear bomb had been dropped. Like the book Lord of the Flies, these kids were left with no adult supervision, for their parents and teachers had been “scorched out” by the nuclear bombs. Due to the fact that no one watched over them during their most crucial years of growing up, the kids had developed their own rituals and rules. Stuck together in a basement of their old schoolhouse, everyone was afraid to leave or let anyone else in. However, one of the more rebellious characters, Sin, brought in an “otherun” named Tark. Bringing Tark to the keep, which happened to be the basement of the school building, sparked a widespread discontent among the kids. When Mig, the leader of the kids, found out about this “otherun,” tension was spread among everyone. Once she decided Tark was safe, she announced that they would celebrate by eating a rabbit. However, this rabbit turned out to have been killed by the “otherun” who had been living with the kids for awhile, Tib. To make matters worse, Tib was scorched and unaware that she had killed the rabbit. After the kids found out that she was the one who killed the rabbit, they stare her down, which was the ultimate punishment. This then forces Mig to answer an important question: to leave the keep with Tib, or to stay back with the rest. Mig decided to help Tib and ends up abandoning the keep along with Tib. With Mig gone, any sense of leadership that had existed, was gone with her, and the audience was left to interpret what they think will happen next. Sophomore Sydney Nepo played the difficult role of Tib in Rabbit. Sydney explained “I spent many weeks developing Tib’s character, and I honestly wasn’t satisfied with it until very recently. I just tried to get into Tib’s mindset and played around with the character and the little things to do onstage.” Getting into the mindset of a character like Tib can be frustrating, confusing, and fun – but so rewarding at the same time. Sydney, along with everyone in each cast, was very successful in portraying these complex characters.
The next play to be performed was The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, directed by Michael Ramsey and co-directed by Dominique Karanfilian. The Lottery is a very interesting and ironic play, because the scene is set in a regular society that seems almost too perfect. For most of the show, the audience is led to believe that a normal group of people in a small town are gathered around for some type of event. However, the audience starts to question what the lottery really is when the Hutchinson family receives the black circle on their lottery card, indicating that they won the lottery. The lottery winner ends up being stoned by the village, and in this particular case, Tessie Hutchinson. The village instantly switches from a utopian society to a dystopian one in a matter of seconds.
The third play performed was The Handicapper General (otherwise known as Harrison Bergeron) by Kurt Vonnegut, and directed by Arielle Greenspan and Richie Lauria. This play is satirical and ironic in nature. In fact, the play starts and ends the same exact way and tends to mock normality and uniformity in society. Over the course of this play, Hazel and George Bergeron carry light conversation, but every once in awhile some deep idea will be brought up. However, due to Hazel’s short term memory loss (something that is considered to be great and is honored in their society) and George’s handicapper devices that he must wear so that he can’t think straight, the conversations drift away and start to repeat themselves. However, in the final scene, George disappears offstage to make himself dinner while Hazal is left to watch the holovision. As she watches, she watches as her son, Harrison, tries to take over the government and is shot dead. However, due to her lack of awareness, Hazel forgets about it and it’s like nothing ever happened. Graduating senior Arielle Greenspan says, “getting my vision out onto the stage has been the hardest part. I’ve had a very specific idea as to how this show should look ever since I first read it in class. Because this is my first time directing, I don’t always know how to communicate these ideas to my actors, and it gets to be frustrating at times. Since I have a co-director, Handicapper did not come out as only my vision, but a combination of two.” Arielle was proud of the outcome and plans to continue a career in stage directing and producing. She says “less than 20% of directors and producers are women” and she’d like the change that statistic.
Lastly, the fourth play put on was Kaleidoscope by Ray Bradbury, directed by Mr. Lopez. This Bradbury play shows themes of death, acceptance, and the relation to how people live their lives. The main plot is that a group of astronauts are left in the atmosphere after a shuttle explosion. With dark humor, Bradbury is able to send each astronaut into the darkness of the never-ending atmosphere where they are ultimately led to their death. The deaths were shown as the audience saw each helmet light turn off, one by one.
These one act plays were unlike anything else the high school has ever put on. Mr. Lopez, who usually directs the plays at school, compares letting the seniors direct to “letting your child drive your car, but with more of your kids inside.” He said, “at the start you watch like a hawk, making sure they follow the rules, make smart choices, and treat everything and everyone with respect. As the process continues, it becomes a matter of choosing moments to make quiet suggestions and occasionally to remind them, when they get frustrated, that THEY were once that kid who forgot their blocking or didn’t bring their pencil to rehearsal. By the end, you have to laugh when you hear yourself in their comments, and smile when you see their individual touches color the show in unexpected and creative ways.” When asked if he would do another senior directed play, he said absolutely, despite it being a difficult process.
These plays were part of a festival; they had a common thread and were tied together by means of tone, subject, and message. They challenged both the directors and the cast members, and in the end, was a huge success.