Ellsworth High School's jubilant cast embers seize their trophy for their production, featuring excerpts from playwright Jane Martin's "Talking With," at last weekend's regional 2020 Maine Drama Festival held at Mount Desert Island High School. CHRIS DOUGHERTY PHOTO

EHS, MDIHS win at regional Drama Fest

By Nan Lincoln

Special to The Ellsworth American

BAR HARBOR — Ellsworth High School last weekend held onto its theatrical crown in Class B while Mount Desert Island High School reclaimed its title for Class A at the regional 2020 Maine Drama Festival held at MDI High School. Both schools now will compete respectively at the state level March 20-21 at Rockland’s Oceanside High School and at Falmouth High School.

It is a good thing that EHS and MDIHS do not compete in the same class, as the judges’ heads might have exploded trying to decide a winner.

As it was, they all exploded with praise for both productions.

Better known for their ensemble work, this year director Jasmine Ireland took EHS in a new direction with its scintillating performance of excerpts from playwright Jane Martin’s “Talking With.” In the cast, each of the eight young women delivers a monologue — a brief glimpse into their very diverse and seemingly disconnected lives. Only as the stories unfold do we realize that, actually, there are subtle ties between them.

“You have a beautifully expressed piece with eight dynamic and diverse actors who understood their personal story to tell,” one judge commented.

EHS’s intriguing, gorgeously rendered stage set of an M.C. Escher-inspired graphic, featuring the pertinent props in the stories morphing into one another, works well.

In a similar manner, each of the personal tales told, in turn, “bleed” into the next, changing profoundly what comes after while retaining vestiges of what went before. The characters include a disenchanted actress, a reclusive dreamer, an unhinged auditionee, a grieving daughter who literally loses her marbles (which made for a thrilling set strike as the cast and crew hunted them down), a lonely “lamp lady,” a zealous baton twirler, a pugnacious snake handler and a tattooed lady.

Although the characters never interact, Ireland cleverly had them react silently to elements in the others’ stories, without ever upstaging them. The background music composed by Ian Brenner-Simpson for each character and Scott Hough’s lighting design, which bathed each speaker in her own hue, also helped both connect and highlight each personality.

All-Festival Cast honors went to Naomi Burmeister, Kayla Hardison and Seneca Maddocks-Wilbur. EHS also was recognized for its outstanding sound design and composition (Ian Brenner-Simpson); tattoo artistry (Lillian Frank,) and achievement in individualized characterizations in an ensemble.

“I’m tremendously proud of this show,” Ireland said. “Everything from the acting to the lighting, music, set design is so unified and nuanced. It is difficult for eight young women to move an audience and hold their attention individually. There’s nothing for them to fall back on or hide behind. They did it bravely and beautifully.”

Ireland says they hope to have another local performance before the finals but is not certain where and when and suggests checking the school’s Facebook page for an update.

Regaining the trophy it lost last year to Yarmouth High, MDIHS is back on top.

Its production of “A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes,” directed by Casey Rush, proved that, once again, this cast and crew are at their level best when they are completely off kilter.

Set in an excellently conceived and constructed sports stadium, complete with press box and Jumbotron, a pair of announcers takes us, play by play, through a challenging (and aren’t they all?) extended family Thanksgiving dinner and pre-dinner kerfuffle. Oh, what fun! And, oh, how close to home as we watch this quirky family navigate in a beautifully choreographed “dance” through the table setting and seating arrangements process; cooking the bird, gravy making — under a hail of elder criticism — bouts of passive aggression and just plain aggression (yes, blood was spilled) and shrieking babies, all in the context of sporting events, football, tennis, crew, etc.

“You knew your show, you found the physicality, color and timing to bring this piece to life,” judge Midge Merrill said.

Judges awarded All-Festival Cast honors to Rawl Blackett,  Rex DeMuro,  Ruby Mahoney and Zach Uliano, with special commendations for set construction, physicality and choreography.

Bucksport High School, which performed the backward comedy “Slasrever neves” by Alan Haehnel at Lawrence High in Fairfield, took second place in Class B. All-Festival Cast honors went to Mattie Wilson and Kam Landry. Other special commendations went to Willa Fox for piano, Kami Howes, Lilah West and Kam Landry for set design, and Kam Landry for costumes.

“A fun, silly romp…I was grinning ear to ear,” commented one judge.

Deer Isle/Stonington also distinguished itself with a marvelous little comedy, “The Book Store,” about a bookstore that has as many characters in it as the books on its shelves. It was ranked third in Class B, receiving All-Festival Cast awards for Mason Woodman, Grace Morey and Mason Plummer. Ian Cust also received a Judges’ Commendation for his terrific set design, which he shared with freshman assistant Elliot Burrin.

“These characters were working to make us believe their world exists,” commented one judge.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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