This weekend Soldotna High School English teacher Sarah Erfurth and a group of eleven students will present four showings of the hour-long comedy Play On! which Erfurth, the director, described as “a play about the difficulties of putting on a play.”
“It’s very true to form,” Erfurth said. “Everybody who’s ever acted in a play knows that the week before a performance, there’s always the sense of a miracle being needed to pull it off… In my experience, despite how hard that last week is, opening night has always gone well. But in this play the miracle never happens, and so we have opening night go terribly.”
Play On!, by Rick Abbot, shows two disastrous rehearsals and one disastrous performance of a play-within-a-play, a melodramatic English murder mystery called Murder Most Foul (in which the actors are unsure whether or not a murder actually occurs). The students portray the cast of Murder Most Foul as they struggle to perfect the performance in the four days before its opening, in spite of personal complications, technical failures, and continual script revisions by its author.
“It has been uniquely challenging,” Erfurth said. “They’re essentially learning the same script three different ways.”
Another challenge has been learning the “mistakes” that the actors make in Murder Most Foul.
“The problem with doing a play were you purposefully mess up the lines is that when you mess up the mess-up lines, then they get all flustered,” Erfurth said. “Sometimes it looks like it’s on purpose, and other times it derails the rest of the lines. It means you have to have the original lines down perfect, and you have to know each time how you mess them up.”
In addition to doing three iterations of one botched play, most actors also have two characters — an actor in the “outer play,” and the character that actor plays in the “inner” murder mystery.
“It means they have to have a really good sense of their outer character, in order to mess up believably,” Erfurth said.
Soldotna High School Senior Paige Reide plays the actor Violet, as well as Violet’s murder mystery character Diana Lassiter. Reade was also the student who suggested the script to Erfurth.
“I used to go to a performing arts center in Arizona, and they performed it my eighth grade year,” Reide said. “I really liked the idea, and I thought it was a great since we had a short amount of time, and the play’s about messing up.”
Senior Courtney Vin Zant plays Phyllis, the aloof but demanding author of Murder Most Foul.
“I am a terrible author,” said Vin Zant of her character. “My play makes absolutely no sense. I don’t know anything about it, and I’m really annoying. Really annoying!”
Vin Zant said that the cast members of Play On have begun to see similarities with the cast of Murder Most Foul.
“We had a weekend rehearsal at my house, and we started noticing that we are our characters,” Vin Zant said. “We’re going through the exact same thing as them… It had been four and a half hours since we started rehearsal, almost nine o’clock, and I said ‘guys, does anyone need to call their parents?’ And the next line that somebody was supposed to say was ‘I have to get home soon because my mom doesn’t like me staying out late!’”
Erfurth said that Play On! was “a unique opportunity.”
“Because we can do the fun Edwardian overacting, overdramatized reactions thing — a parody of a play — and then we can do a play outside of that,” Erfurth said. “It’s really funny for anyone who’s ever done theatre to watch this, because it’s so close to home for everything you’ve experienced. That’s one of the beautiful things about theatre. It’s really stressful right until you actually do it, then the magic comes together, and the fact that this play kind of combined and acknowledged that experience of what it’s like to be part of a theatre group, but still gave us the opportunity to do almost two plays was kind of nice.”
The Soldotna Drama Troupe’s performance of Play On! is part of a fundraising project for a trip to England in June. Erfurth said that she hopes it will be the final effort needed to fund the trip for many of her drama students.
“Some of the kids are really close, others are not quite there because they haven’t been able to raise enough money,” said Erfurth. “We’re really hoping that this will be a big enough turn-out that they’ll be able to get that last amount in.”
Erfurth said that “about half” of the students in the play are planning to go on the England trip.
“The other half are just helping because they love drama,” Erfurth said. “Some of them are just volunteering their time, which is awesome.”
Play On! will be performed at Kenai’s Triumvirate North Theatre at 6:00 p.m on Feb. 26, 27, and 28. An Italian dinner, including coffee and desert, will served during the performance. Tickets will be $40. On Feb. 28, a $15 matinee, without dinner, will be presented at 2 p.m.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com