2013-06-14 / Front Page

Into the future

Play goes off with success
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

James Yokabaskas, a member of Cape Elizabeth High School’s class of 2013, looks down from the top row of stone steps at Fort Williams Park during the school’s commencement ceremony Sunday, June 9. See more photos on pages 14 and 15. (Jack Flagler photo) James Yokabaskas, a member of Cape Elizabeth High School’s class of 2013, looks down from the top row of stone steps at Fort Williams Park during the school’s commencement ceremony Sunday, June 9. See more photos on pages 14 and 15. (Jack Flagler photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – When Dick Mullen began teaching at Cape Elizabeth High School in 1976, he said “it was a wild kind of place.”

The longtime high school theater teacher said he was “appalled” by the sound of alcohol bottles rolling on the floor and marijuana smoke in the auditorium during the first performance he directed, nearly 40 years ago.

Over the last four decades, the culture of Cape Elizabeth High School has dramatically changed. According to some students, parents and teachers, the academic, athletic and extracurricular pressures are more intense for students today, and the reaction to mistakes is more severe.

The community’s tendency to at times overreact was an object of satire in Cape Elizabeth’s annual spring show, “The Year of X,” performed June 7. The show poked fun at the sometimes over-reaching tendencies of adults in Cape’s schools, the community and even in the media.

Specifically, the play addressed the reaction to the news that a group of high school students ate marijuana cookies on the same day the school hosted a TEDxYouth event in December.

The performance of the show nearly never happened. Principal Jeffrey Shedd delayed the originally scheduled shows on May 30 and May 31 because of concerns about the way drug use was depicted. After a parents-only show June 1, “The Year of X” was scheduled for a wider audience the following Friday.

Seniors Zach Hindall and Harper Chalat said Friday night they planned to come to the show anyway, but the delay and controversy surrounding the material heightened their anticipation.

“I think it getting cancelled and then put on again made me really want to see it,” Chalat said.

The high school auditorium was nearly full with an audience of juniors and seniors, teachers and families. Senior Sam Barksdale, director of the show, estimated nearly 300 tickets were sold.

“Look guys, this is the best publicity we’ve ever had for a show,” Mullen joked to the audience before the performance.

A farcical version of the TEDx event opens “The Year of X,” and is quickly followed by a local policeman, played by Will Kriger, explaining to a fellow officer that the Cape police “are on the front line in the war of drugs and adolescent delinquency.”

The audience’s attention is then turned to a video, in which the story is picked up by both a Spanish-language and an Australian news network, leading to the Pope’s excommunication of Cape Elizabeth.

Ian Andolsek, who co-wrote the production with Barksdale and senior Griffin Carpenter, said after the show those scenes demonstrate “how something relatively small can evolve into something much, much larger very quickly.”

In reality, the Associated Press story of the nine students suspended after the incident on Dec. 7 was picked up by national and international media outlets. The Guardian newspaper in London and the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom both reported the story on their respective websites, as did the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in Texas.

The scope of the production was not limited to the events of a single day. The main plot line of “The Year of X” follows Shannon Howard’s character, Superintendent Meredith Nadeau, who attempts to wrestle control of the high school from Shedd, played by Robert MacKay. Along the way, writers of the show take aim at teachers, administrators and even parents.

When MacKay’s Shedd meets with a group of “Cape moms,” played by Hannah Walsch, Anya Kohan and Gwenyth Roberts, to discuss punishment for their children’s drug use, the moms are uninterested in the meeting and more worried about being late for yoga class.

“Sometimes I make William drive the Toyota to school,” one of the moms offers Shedd as her son’s potential punishment.

After the show, about 50 audience members stayed behind while a panel of parents, teachers and students discussed the aim and effect of the satire. According the Barksdale, the talk back was an idea proposed by and Shedd agreed upon by Barksdale, Andolsek and Mullen.

Shedd said during the hour-long session he appreciated the “heart and soul” performers, writers and directors put into the show, but he thought the focus of the satire could have been broader.

“Even though it does do some things very well in terms of the way people react, what it doesn’t do is it doesn’t get to the issues of the pressures that exist in this community,” Shedd said.

Barksdale and Andolsek both recognized those pressures exist in Cape Elizabeth, but said the idea doesn’t lend itself well to comedy writing. Instead, they chose to address those issues organically, they said.

“A big important part of writing is accessibility. Personally, I think in terms of that idea of a scene, that would be almost a tragic scene,” Barksdale said.

When real-life “Cape mom” Bryn Carpenter asked in the talk back if anyone was offended by the play, she was initially met with no responses. Most of the parents and teachers in the audience offered positive reactions and said they were pleased the students found a humorous outlet to explore real issues.

Mullen said before the show he hoped for that reaction, so the Cape community could laugh with the students and make fun of themselves.

“When you have satire you’re complimenting people. You’re saying they’re strong enough and big enough to let you have fun at their expense,” Mullen said.

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