Friday, December 14, 2012

High school near Alexandria, VA puts on edgy Christmas comedy program -- visiting it is a pilgrimage for me


Tonight, I attended the Holiday Extravaganza at the West Potomac High School, in Fairfax County, VA, near Route 1 and relatively close (2 miles) to the Huntington and Franconia Metro stations in Alexandria. The drama event was held in the wide Kogelman Theater, the smaller of the two auditoriums in the Arts and Media Building, which is actually separated from the main campus building.

The program, 135 minutes (long for high school) comprised two one-act  comic plays (a practice sometimes seen with opera), and an intermediate skit. 

The first play (“Act One”) was “The Trial of Santa”, by Don Zolidi (about 25 min). In our litigious society, someone sues Santa Claus for invasion of privacy and discrimination.  Remember all the old commands to “be good” or someone would tell Santa?  (I even remember when my parents told me the “truth” about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny – we were in the family car, having just left the house).   This was a comedy where Santa isn’t allowed any lap dances.  The program, parents were warned, was PG-13. 

The “intermezzo” was a skit based on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, based on the idea of putting a love potion on someone’s eyes to control who she will fall in love with.  It’s an idea for people who can’t face later jealousy.

There was a quick intermission, in situ (no refreshments), and then came the main event, an hour-long “Act Two”, “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some!)”, by Michael Carleton, Jim FitzGerald, and John K. Alvarez. The play consists of a long series of dialogues following the model of Saturday Night Live (on Friday night), to make fun of almost everything.  There was a lot of audience participation of sorts, from actors planted in the audience who would join on the stage.  The lights would dim and come back on.  It was hard to discern any specific structure to the play, but just about all of pop culture took a beating.   A couple of the parts donned a wig, in impersonation of Norman Bates.  Did you know that Justin Timberlake cross dresses?  Or much about the personal life of Marley?  (Movie reviews May 1, 2012)/  Or was that the dog of Marley and Me (with Owen Wilson hovering)?  Rudolf may make a good boyfriend before running the Alaskan Iditarod?  Or that Rudolf got involve in a trademark and copyright fight?   I thought it was interesting that each of two high school plays would mention, with comic effect, our society’s obsession with lawsuits – over a number of issues.  It seems as though the writers are fans of Electronic Frontier Foundation and are familiar with the problems caused by copyright and patent trolls.  There were some early jokes about "fruitcake" (Christmas "comfort food") and "nuts" (or nutmeg).   I was expected to hear “don’t ask don’t tell” to get mentioned.  Not quite, but close.  Yes, all PG-13. 
  
I couldn’t quite match the characters to the program. Some of the actors had trouble with the acoustics in the auditorium, but Eddie Perez  (one of the directors) was always exceptionally clear and forceful. 

The theater is ringed with posters of controversial plays that students have produced there.  These include “Titanic”, “Les Miserables”, “Inherit the Wind” (with that old time religion), “Class Acts”, “The Boy Friend”, and “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”.  I could almost imagine “Do Ask Do Tell” if it existed yet.
Outdoors, in the lobby, there are some exhibits of student art work.

I do have a history with the school, as a substitute teacher from 2004-2005.  I’ll come back to that in a moment, but I do want to mention that the school has an elaborate film editing lab (the only other comparable lab I saw as a sub was at the Arlington Career Center).  An AP chemistry class in June 2005 made a short comic sci-fi film about a new element called “Reltonium” (named after a chemistry teacher).  Imagine the possibilities.  It’s embedded in a virus (maybe like crystalline astatine), so unstable that it can let the virus house a microscopic mini black hole, so that when people are infected, they can trade identities or bodies (actually happens in an episode of “Smallville”, but there are interesting theoretical possibilities – but we don’t need a fourth “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” film.

The school, in a very mixed area and not the most prosperous, has always offered an atmosphere that is an interesting mixture of conservatism (there is an ROTC Academy – which sent a team to another Alexandria concert that I reviewed here Nov. 11. 2007) and progressivism, leveraging technology and sometimes willing to challenge social norms and proprieties.  No other school at which I subbed was quite as “enigmatic”.  A few of the AP  and honors students were truly outstanding.  (Bryant Alternative, and Mount Vernon are each a few miles down Route 1, not far away, but very different in culture).  Another oddity, maybe a coincidence, is that that the varsity sports teams are called “Wolverines”, the name of the team in the movie “Red Dawn”.

There was an unsettling incident there when I was substitute teaching in 2005.  I have explained the matter in detail on my “BillBoushka” blog with the entry on July 27, 2007 (merely navigate there through Blogger Profile).  It took a lot of coincidence, including unusual items getting published a particular week in October 2005 in competing newspapers, to trigger the incident.  It is apparent, however, that some staff and perhaps others must have been distracted by some material I had published on the web (in fact, a particular fictitious screenplay for a short film) and that could have been found by search engines.  This whole matter occurred just before the major media was noticing that the Internet was creating “online reputation” issues and creating conundrums for employers and schools.  Facebook, at that time, had been invented but wasn’t fully public, and Myspace had been well known for less than a year. 

So going back was a bit of a pilgrimage.  It is a 10-mile drive from north Arlington, through difficult traffic, and changing patterns.  The Route 1 area is extremely congested during rush.  Curiously, though, as I spotted Quanderer Road and turned on the isolated, winding road, I felt that I was almost back in Tolkien country.  

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