With 'Staircase,' Theatergoers Take Step Into Reality

Production Centers On Student Concerns

October 30, 1991|By Cindy Parr | Cindy Parr,Contributing writer

Westminster High students might see something of themselves this week, as they peer into Sylvia Barrett's crowded classroom.

A cast of30 of their classmates will take the stage tomorrow evening to open Christopher Sergel's "Up the Down Staircase," the story of first-yearEnglish teacher Barrett and her class at New York's Calvin Coolidge High.

"There are a lot of issues in the play that relate to what high school students face," said sophomore Melinda Denham, who, as Ms. Barrett, finds herself becoming more and more involved in her students' personal problems.

"As Sylvia Barrett, I deal with a couple of kidswho want to drop out of high school," said Denham, 14. "I take a special interest in them and try to convince them about the value of staying in school, and they decide to stay.

"The play portrays the characters of teen-agers today; we have a class clown, the academic type, the hostile pessimist and even a nerd," she said.

Director MaryLou Grout, who has headed up productions at the school for 10 years,said she selected the play because the cast is larger, and she wanted to include as many students as possible.

"This particular production will be different, since I have allowed the kids to have the flexibility to develop their characters," she said.

"They are a creative group, and have enjoyed the freedom they had with their individual parts."

Students playing leading roles include junior Kelly Conover as Bea Schacter, freshman Mike Haslam as Joe Ferone and junior Jon Leiberman as J. J. McHabe.

Junior Dana McEvoy plays Alice, and senior Mike Smith is Dr. Maxwell Clarke, Coolidge High's principal.

With such a large cast, Grout said, it has helped that most have hadprior acting experience.

"This has been fun, because I have had alot of seasoned kids in this production," Grout said. "We have had avery short rehearsal time, and they have been great at taking the characters from what is basically a simple play and giving them depth."

"I have really enjoyed this play," said the 16-year-old Smith, who is acting in his third high school production. "I have been able towrite a lot of add-in lines for my character.

He said the students' ability to contribute to the play from their own experience has made the parts stronger.

"The play has a strong message behind it, which is basically that things aren't really as bad as they seem," Smith said. "You can't change everything, but you can make some things better."

For 13-year-old Haslam, who plays the strong-willed Joe Ferone, the play marks his first high school performance.

"This has really been fun for me," he said. "It's been a great experience for me, since I have had to get close to the other actors.

"We are classmates offstage and on. There has to be a certain chemistry there to make the play work."

Grout said she hopes that audiences will haveas much fun viewing the play as cast members had in preparing their roles.

"Hopefully, they'll be our students and maybe see themselves," Grout said. "We have all been students. We all should be able to relate to the play."

Performances of "Up the Down Staircase" will continue at 7:30 nightly through Saturday in the Westminster High School auditorium. Tickets are $3 at the door; drama club members and senior citizens, free. Information: 848-5050.

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