Haldane Drama to present classic Thornton Wilder play
Adecade ago, Martha Mechalakos, who heads Haldane Drama, chose Thornton Wilder’s Our Town as the high school’s fall play. Though perennially one of the country’s most-produced high school plays, it had a specific resonance in Philipstown, to the extent that it felt almost as if it had been written here.
Her choice represented many firsts, most notably Haldane Drama’s first production of “serious” literature. The success of the show “inspired me to keep bringing great literature to the students,” Mechalakos says. She cites Sean McNall, a Haldane school board member and director of education at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, who said: “Plays studied as literature in school are not meant to be experienced in ‘wretched isolation.’ One needs to put them on the stage, and let the students experience the play from the inside out.”
In the ensuing years, Haldane Drama has presented everything from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to The Laramie Project, about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming.
Within the 10-year gap, Mechalakos has seen two collective groups of students pass through the high school on the hill. “It was time to bring this magnificent play to a new group of students,” she says. “I would like to think that I’ve learned a lot in the past nine years. Though I’m incorporating many of the same ideas, much will be new and all of it is with a new group.”
Mechalakos says she particularly enjoys working on Our Town because the scenes are small and not peppered with too many characters, which lets her “work each scene with the students, talking about what each character is saying and doing.” Once again, owing to the popularity of the school’s drama program, Mechalakos has double-cast the production, which means every auditioning student gets cast.
The leading part of the Stage Manager is ambitious, with pages of uninterrupted text. The role is daunting even to experienced professional actors. Taking up the mantle will be senior Percy Parker and freshman Lincoln Wayland. The Current posed a few questions to them — and to junior Amelia Alayon and sophomore Molly Bernstein, who share the role of Emily — relating to Cold Spring and its fictitious equivalent, Grover’s Corners.
In the first scenes, the Stage Manager conveys the setting, citing Main Street, the railway station, churches, Town Hall, the grocery store, the cemetery and “the same names as are around here now.” Did that sound familiar?
Wayland: Yes, except for the last part. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of generational families here, but I feel that in the last 10 to 20 years a lot of “city people” have moved into the village, my family being one of them. The description of the town, however, is uncannily accurate. Especially the part about all the churches — six in Grover’s Corners, five here. The parallels between our community and the fictional one are kind of remarkable.
Parker: Cold Spring is so similar to Grover’s Corners, I think it would be impossible not to think of it throughout the show. When I say, “On the whole, things don’t change much around here,” I picture myself at 3 years old, walking to preschool on the same road I take to rehearsal now at 17. It’s such an emotional show to be doing as a senior, and I can only hope that the love I have for Cold Spring is reflected in my character’s love for his small town.
Alayon: Envisioning Grover’s Corners as Cold Spring makes the acting part a lot easier. During Our Town, you see Emily grow up. I share a lot of characteristics with her, and I am seeing how she took Grover’s Corners for granted in her life.
Bernstein: I have always pictured Cold Spring as similar to Grover’s Corners. The sun over the mountains in the morning is something that only people who live here truly understand, and it makes living here so special.
One of the Stage Manager’s lines is: “You’re 21 and you make a few decisions then — whisssh, you’re 70 — and that white-haired lady at your side has eaten over 50,000 meals with you. How do such big things begin?” As a teenager, can you relate to that idea?
Bernstein: In many ways, as a person gets older, life tends to go quicker. I’ve been noticing this more over the past few school years, especially high school.
Alayon: I don’t really relate to that idea yet, but I know I will. All I hear from adults is about how fast time moves! I see how quickly each grade goes by. It felt like just yesterday I was a freshman, and now I will have to start looking at colleges! I try to make an effort to live in the moment, but it is difficult.
Wayland: I believe the decisions you make when you’re young — particularly in high school and college — will profoundly affect the rest of your life. And that as you age, the years start to go by faster and faster. You can blink and it’ll be over.
Thinking of Our Town, what would you consider the “soul” of Cold Spring?
Parker: It’s the teenagers. Maybe I’m biased, but there’s something special about growing up with the same kids, making it from kindergarten to grade 12 together. We’ve all become vastly different. Football players, mathematicians, poets … We’ll go off on our own paths soon enough, and if we go away, each of us will have to try to explain what it was to grow up in this little village on the Hudson. The greatest part is no one but us will understand.
Our Town will be performed at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 at the Haldane auditorium, 15 Craigside Drive, in Cold Spring. Tickets are $12, or $5 for students and seniors online (bit.ly/haldane-our-town) or at the door.
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