Female characters take center stage with the students at Boothbay Region High School and Wiscasset Middle High School, both competing in the annual Drama Theater Festival/One Act Competition.
BRHS drama/performing arts teacher Mary Miller chose “War Letters” by J. Robert Wilkins featuring the three primary women in one soldier’s life: his mother, wife, and his teenage daughter. They are portrayed by Grace Campbell (mother Lillian), Nataleigh Blackman (wife Karen) and Journey Bennett (daughter Mary).
Jackson “Jack” has been sent overseas on a peacekeeping mission for six months. The letters the four write one another are the play’s script. The sacrifices made by not only the soldiers, but the family members they leave behind are powerfully brought home to readers and audiences.
Lillian is still haunted by the loss of her husband Lloyd who managed to survive WWII only to die in the Korean War. She has read Lloyd’s letters a million times, some passages she knows by heart – something Grace has added in her portrayal of Lillian. Those memorized passages in Lloyd’s letters are moving when Grace is looking straight ahead into the past – remembering. Lillian relives those cherished moments with her beloved. Yet, she must put up a good and positive front for her daughter and granddaughter.
Meanwhile, Karen is trying to cope with being the sole parent to daughter Mary in her husband’s absence. Sometimes as Karen writes to Jack she appears to be having a conversation with him. She tells Jack about the daily goings-on, about Mary and how difficult it is without him; and always about how much she misses and loves him.
Mary is 13 when her father is deployed and she feels bitter, afraid and angry about his having to leave her. She writes to him about what’s going on in her life – without him ... school, first school dance, and her upcoming 14th birthday, Christmas. And love, always love.
All the actresses are very excited about the one-act competition this weekend. And it is the first time any of them have been involved.
Mary Miller is also very excited about the competition – and this piece. “I’ve wanted to do this show for a long time. Campbell, Bennett and Blackman wanted to do a play and it’s not often you get to do one with just three characters. This play is very moving – and the end really brings it home.”
And it will bring it home at the competition Saturday, March 7 at 6 p.m. in Yarmouth at the high school to the judges and audience through these young actresses’ talent and Miller’s direction.
“Karen is very distraught. She has to do everything alone. It’s an interesting part and it’s pushing me out of my comfort zone,” said Blackman.
Campbell said she likes the challenge. “It’s hard for me to relate to her (Lillian). She’s had so much loss in her life.”
“Miss Miller said it’s really fun to do the one acts so I’m doing it,” Journey said. “These three women lose a soldier close to them. I’ve never had that happen to me so I thought this would be a challenge (pause). One letter in particular that her father writes – about Mary’s first school dance, but then he talks about where he is and how hard it is … this letter is hard.”
All costumes are by that veteran costumer Paulette Carter. Like the actresses, the students of the tech crew are all newbies to the one act competition: Cierra Combrink. Marissa Davison, Emery Lorrain, Rachel Barter and Jaden Welsh.
Over at Wiscasset Middle High School, Jean Phillips’ eight actresses are presenting “Desdemona in the Afterlife” by Nelly E. Cuellar-Garcia. The characters in the play, set in Purgatory, are all women from Shakespearean tragedies: Desdemona, Emilia, Juliet, Lady Macbeth and Ophelia. The roles of these women in the Bard’s plays is examined. The choices these characters made, the situations they faced and why each woman was as she was – and wonder how those choices will affect them, or indeed go with them into the afterlife … because they are certainly with them in purgatory.
Olivia Demeny is Desdemona, Kaydin Nichols is Ophelia, Megan Kyrjala portrays Lady Macbeth, Ukraine exchange student Daryna Yesyp is Juliet and Naomi Wood plays Emilia. Seven other students will accompany the thespians as techs.
“I have three seniors who’ve been with me for four to five years and they are strong actresses,” said Phillips. “I wanted to choose a play to showcase their talents. This show, for all the girls, is a tour-de-force.”
Phillips said she has taken a small liberty with the script by adding other female characters. “I didn’t think it was fair only five of the women in Shakespeare’s tragedies should be represented.” This production will also include Savannah Roberts as Lady McDuff, Keima Henry as Lavina and Lily Yeaton as Cordelia.
The lone male performer is John Hodson as the Messenger of God.
“It’s a fabulous show,” Phillips said. “My kids and I want to introduce (the audience) to some of the best theater they’re ever going to see.”
The WMHS troupe competes on Friday, March 6 at 6 p.m. at Camden Hills Regional High School.