Simon West (Laurence Lau) interviewing Ben Franklin (David McCann)
Your memories of high school days may engender pleasure or pain, depending on your class status on the popularity poll. Those halcyon years might have been the best or the worst of times. Playwright Theresa Rebeck has fashioned a new play blending contemporary issues with historical facts and created a fascinating and disturbing picture of the problems facing today’s youth.
The Connecticut Repertory Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut at Storrs will tackle this emotional powder keg “O Beautiful” until Sunday, October 14 and you are encouraged to weigh in on their excellent theatrical docket.
Lennie Ryan (Coles Prince) and Alice Fletcher (Hannah Kaplan) are probably never going to be voted King and Queen at the high school prom. They are much lower down on the social strata of cool, insider kids. When Lennie, encouraged by his mom (Olivia Saccomanno), enters the school talent show to impress Alice, he messes up the words to his song, O Beautiful, and finds himself the target of a vicious bullying campaign.
When his is verbally and physically attacked by the school’s jocks and jills, Luke (Ryan Marcone), Erik (Thomas Dubinski) and Gwen (Kate Mavis Zulauf), Alice tries to defend him and stop them, but she is too busy dealing with her own bad stuff. Alice has been date raped by Luke and is now pregnant, afraid to tell her parents (Sarah Wintermeyer and Dariusz Burkowski) and endure their disappointment.
Through it all, Alice turns to a loving and compassionate, understanding and supportive, Jesus (yes, that Jesus), played with incredible insight and sensitivity by Will Haden. Jesus is there for Alice, and for all the students, trying to help them emerge from a landscape littered with mines threatening to explode.
Add to the culture clash a Glenn Beck style TV commentator Simon West (Laurence Lau) who delights in interviewing such personalities as Thomas Jefferson (Anthony J. Goes), John Adams (Michael John Improta) and Benjamin Franklin (David McCann), as he tries to drum up support for his theories on government and gun control.
Don’t be surprised if a justice defending Joan of Arc (Maggie Sulka) strides into the fray as well as an outspoken, truth seeking American history teacher (Thomas Brazzle) who genuinely cares for the welfare of his students, even if it involves calling upon his sister (Whitney Andrews) to risk both their positions to help. Kit Flannagan’s Mrs. Loomis does not come off as especially effective as the high school principal.
Throughout this drama, that is laced with humor thanks to Jesus’s presence, the visuals projected on the stage are particularly effective in underscoring the play’s message. As we stand on the precipice of a presidential election, this play beautifully directed by Joseph Hanreddy, is especially timely. You may even reevaluate Alexander Hamilton (James Jelkin) and his role in founding this nation.
For tickets ($6-30), call the CT Repertory Theatre, Harriet .S. Jorgensen Theatre, on the campus of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, at 860-486-2113 or online at www.crt.uconn.edu. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Forget boys and girls holding hands and sharing a strawberry milk shake at the drugstore. “O Beautiful” deals head on with the real issues facing today’s young people and the world we have left them as their legacy.