For Academy troupe, show does go on

Mids sacrifice their free time to pull off production for Masqueraders' 100th year

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October 19, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The adage "The show must go on" has seldom reflected more tenacity, discipline, determination and passion than it does this season, with the unbroken 100-year history of theatrical productions at the Naval Academy.

The Masqueraders will mark the troupe's centennial next month with two weekend presentations of Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker, despite new academy regulations that cut into Mids' free time for extracurricular activities.

The changes instituted by Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler require midshipmen to study nightly for three hours, which would have reduced the Masqueraders' rehearsal time by as much as half. But assistant professor Christy Stanlake, in her sixth year as director of the group, said Fowler's administration quickly approved an "excusal" allowing Masqueraders to rehearse after class.

In addition, she said, the group asked for a bare minimum of students to work on the play - 17 instead of the usual 35 - who would do double duty as set builders and actors.

"We'd cast students willing to give up all weekend liberties between September and November and cast faculty members who could rehearse during the week," Stanlake said. "At the beginning of school, five midshipmen showed up really worried about the theater, offering to volunteer whenever they were able. Other volunteers were willing to sacrifice all their liberty, which was inspiring and humbling to me, seeing how much theater meant to them."

In choosing plays, Stanlake always makes certain that they are not only entertaining but serve "in developing midshipmen's critical thinking about ethical issues that will serve them in the future as officers."

In February, Stanlake chose Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good, winner of the Olivia Award and Tony for best play in 1991. It concerns British Royal Navy and Marine officers who decide to produce a play in an 18th-century Australian penal colony to help reform convicts.

Stanlake sees this as celebrating the role theater has played over a century of Naval Academy history and "globally as more midshipmen engage in the ongoing struggle of creating new democracies abroad."

Wertenbaker attended St. John's College in Annapolis, Stanlake said, and her plays reflect its curriculum in "the importance of the theater in forming Greek society."

Stanlake sees the production of this play "by a famous playwright from St. John's as a wonderful way to celebrate how theater helps construct the fabric of civil life and history here."

She recalled a visit from the former Mid who played Macbeth in 2004, Marine Jack Treptow. During a tour in Iraq, his enlisted Marines had to go into people's homes in Ramadi to obtain information about insurgents. Treptow told Stanlake that his "background in humanities had provided an important skill for this job."

Similarly, Stanlake takes pride in the way Masqueraders' experience has helped other students. She mentions "brilliant writer" David Smestuen, who played Stanley in last season's A Streetcar Named Desire and will play Capt. Arthur Phillip in the coming production.

As for the centennial celebration, Stanlake is inviting all previous Masqueraders directors to the play and reception that follows. They are: Anne Marie Drew, who worked with the Masqueraders for 10 years and remains on the academy faculty; David White, who also served 10 years and retired last year, and Michael Jasperson, who was director for 30 years and is now retired and living in Oregon. Previous directors will be invited to share their thoughts with the audience at the Nov. 17 performance.

Also planned is a 100 Years of Navy Theater, a photo exhibit at Mahan Hall during performances that later will become part of the archives. Videos of the three directors' reminiscences will play in the foyer.

Stanlake is trying to contact Wertenbaker in hopes that she will attend this production.

Performances are scheduled at Mahan Hall at 8 p.m. Nov. 9, 10, 17 and 18, and at 2 p.m. November 19. Information and tickets: 410-293-8497.

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