The folks behind the Cappies program that recognizes high school theater productions and performances decided to establish a new recognition for the 2014 awards, presented on Friday, May 23, at the Aronoff Center. The organizers use student critics to evaluate productions at one another’s schools, so student writing is the cornerstone of the Cappies. They decided that adding an award for “Top Critique” would enhance the program. As CityBeat’s long-time theater critic, I was invited to consider six critiques deemed the year’s top reviews. Without knowing the finalists’ identities or schools, I ranked them.
When I presented the award onstage at the Aronoff, I learned that the finalists were Ryley Arnold from William Mason High School, Olivia Erhardt from Mariemont High School, Cole Hankins from Loveland High School, Kelly Markle from Colerain High School, Bridget Nicholas from Scott High School and Jeremias Santarelli from the School for Creative and Performing Arts. As the “Top Critique” for the 2014 Cappies, I chose Bridget’s commentary about an April 2014 production at Gallatin High School, and it’s reprinted here. Bridget has been invited to review a Fringe Next production for CityBeat later this week.
REVIEW: Because Their Hearts Were Pure; or, The Secret of the Mine
April 10-11, 2014, Gallatin County High School
By Bridget Nicholas, Scott High School
In the darkness of the theater, the ticking of a projector reel beckoned the audience back in time.
By the time the film had counted down to zero, golden light suffused the stage, and the film reel’s beat gave way to the clicking of knitting needles. Gallatin County High School brought new life to an old-fashioned concept in their production of Because Their Hearts Were Pure; or, The Secret of the Mine.
Morland Cary’s 1941 play has all the elements of a classic melodrama: a moustache-twirling villain, a pair of innocent lovers and a nearly abandoned coal mine. The hopes of a blissful marriage between kind-hearted Melody Truelove and honest Goodwin Dalrymple are threatened when the family mine no longer produces coal. When cunning banker Sebastian Hardacre schemes to gain possession of both the mine and Melody’s heart, it is up to the purity of the protagonists’ motives, a false moustache and two widows’ evening stroll to save the day.
Austin Adams (Sebastian Hardacre) presented a villain as oily as his handlebar moustache. His voice, projection and evil laugh were perfectly suited to melodrama. Whether entering with a cackle and swirl of black cloth, enjoying saying the word “luscious” altogether too much or lurking behind a flower box to prod a baby with his cane, Adams brought roars of laughter. Haley Cozine (Melody Truelove) provided ample contrast to the villain in her subdued sweetness.
Rebecca Rogers (Widow Dalrymple) and Alex Johnston (Widow Truelove) contributed to the comedy with their not-so-subtle coughs and recourse to the blackberry cordial. Christian Miller and Kirk Montoya, as the earnest yet bumbling school board members, added to the silliness with their tipsy antics after sampling this cordial.
Though energy was low in the first act, the second act brought a crescendo in vigor. Often actors spoke too quickly or too softly to be clearly understood, but for the most part they projected well despite the absence of microphones.
Despite the daunting number of scene changes in this production, the stage crew (Leilani Elliot, Jamie Eversole, Taylor Lewis and Autumn McMillian) managed the set changes with remarkable efficiency. The crew’s capable management of the large number of props and set pieces allowed the show to hurtle forward with little interruption. Deanna Gilliam’s masterful control of sound made the show crackle with energy, from adding atmosphere with howling wind to jolting the audience out of their seats with a massive explosion. Each cue was met precisely and executed skillfully — subtle variation of the volume of the wind when doors were opened or closed indicated great attention to detail, and the exact timing of the baby’s wails brought hilarity.
Gallatin County High School delivered a production that gleamed with silver, a merry light that encouraged the audience to believe that no situation is hopeless when one’s heart is pure.
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