Written by Fourth Estate Lifestyle Editor Genevieve Hoeler
High school fosters some of the greatest memories and most adolescent traumas. In Peasant Theater’s production of the new musical “Dark Times at Grimesville High”—written, directed and composed by Mason student, Conor Kyle—spins a clever, satiric story of one girl’s high school experience.
Olivia, played by Janey Robieau, is a soon to be graduated senior who is vying for a spot as valedictorian. She needs one more A+ in her journalism class to achieve her goal and end her high school career, which she considers the best four years of her life. Her editor and secret nemesis, Peyton, played by Christine Huff, makes it her last mission to completely destroy Olivia and prove that she is as miserable and awful as the rest of the kids at Grimesville High.
The play soon devolves into a whirlwind of drugs, bullying and sex as Olivia’s dreams slip through her fingers in a very short period of time. She meets the people who populate the dark underbelly of Grimesville High, and is quickly sucked into their world. Her valedictorian ambitions quickly fall to the wayside as she huffs spray paint and considers a life of cobbling with weepy dismay.
The musical was performed with very minimal set elements. The lights, operated and designed by Chris Lancashire, set the stage in the bright high school hallways or in the dank basement of a bad boy stud—and possible rapist—Devon, played by Eric Beringer. A better established set or prop design may have helped the audience fully understand the space the actors were working in, as many times the stage set up was confusing.
This performance was in desperate need of two things: singers and an editor. Many of the characters spurred laughs from the audience—especially Huff with her constant historical references in times of agitation—but the music, a primary component for the show, often fell short. This was mostly because it was very hard to hear the singers, due to a lack of projection. It often made the songs uncomfortable to sit through, because instead of focusing on the action of the play the audience had to strain to make out every other word.
Kyle is a very intelligent writer, with quick wit and sharp humor that can send audiences into fits of laughter. However, the jokes oftentimes impeded the story, which soon devolved and unwound into a messy pile by the end. By the finale, the characters were so flat or so completely unlikeable that it was hard to care about whether or not their stories ended happily. The constant jokes referring to drug addiction, rape and violence were also hard to stomach when propelled so unapologetically and repeatedly.
However, there is something heart-warming about watching a group of friends work on art together. The actors were obviously enjoying themselves as they sang casual yet graphic songs about bullying and drugs. That energy helped fuel many of the jokes which may have fallen flat, otherwise.
Peasant Theater offers students what no other organization does, which is a chance for any student to produce work in a venue on campus for the Mason student and faculty body to see. It gives all works the chance to breathe and grow in a healthy, educational environment.
“Dark Times at Grimesville High,” may not be ready for a bigger stage, but that is what makes organizations like Peasant Theater an important part of the performing arts industry so that works like these may also grow.
(Photo and video courtesy of Peasant Theater)