BAR HARBOR — “The Dancers,” by American playwright Horton Foote, is a complex, nuanced exploration of timeless teenage issues, including confidence, popularity and attraction.
The challenging one-act play is Mount Desert Island High School’s entry into this year’s Maine Eastern Regional Drama Festival.
The public can take a look at the island’s student thespians during a special sneak preview performance this Saturday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. at the school’s Higgins-Demas theater. It airs again on Friday, March 6, during the opening night of the Drama Festival, which will be held at MDI High on March 6 and 7.
A cast of a dozen actors, along with double that amount of behind-the-scenes technicians, have been working diligently on “The Dancers” since the new year began, director Casey Rush said. They’ve embraced the material and spent countless hours running scenes, practicing dialogue and otherwise learning to inhabit the cast of characters set out in Foote’s 1950s play.
“Even though I guess you could say it’s a trivial story … teenagers, the dance, the uncomfortable boy – Horton Foote doesn’t trivialize those things,” Rush said. “As we would have seen them during those moments of our lives as being so important, so all-encompassing, he also sees those moments as important. These experiences are all too real. They are very powerful experiences for these people.”
“The Dancers” follows 16-year-old Horace, played by Griffin Graves, as he moves through several uncomfortable situations revolving around a school dance. Horace’s sister sets him up to take Emily Crews, the prettiest and most popular girl, played by Sarah Soucek. But the date falls apart after much fretting on Horace’s part when he discovers Emily is being forced by her mother to go to the dance with him. After leaving the Crews’ house in humiliation, he meets Mary Catherine, a young girl who, like Horace, lacks confidence. The two lonely young people are drawn to each other. Horace asks Mary Catherine to another dance, but at the same time, his sister and Emily’s mother again arrange for him to escort Emily, this time with Emily’s cooperation, because she’s unhappy about the way she treated Horace. But Horace stands firm; he’s asked Mary Catherine, he wants to take Mary Catherine, and he does. The turn of events does wonders for the new couple’s confidence and gives them much joy.
“I’ve seen this play produced a couple different times, and I’ve always enjoyed it,” Rush said. “There’s something about the way Foote treats his characters. There is a depth to the characters and the circumstances within which they exist. And I think the kids have done well with it.”
The Regional Drama Festival, or one-act festival as it’s more widely known, is akin to a sports competition, Rush said. There’s practice, practice and more practice, and when it all comes down to it, one shot to win. That’s an exhilarating thing for everyone involved, he said.
“With any other play, you have a few chances to get it right,” Rush said. “With the one-act, we have exactly one opportunity to put this thing in front of the judges. It better be as good as it possibly can at that point. I have to work to keep the cast on edge enough so when they get to that Friday night, 9 o’clock performance, they are as sharp as can be.”
Also performing in “The Dancers” will be Grace Drennan, Elise Robertson, Tarzan Munson, Natalie Rogers, Mary Paola, Caleb Graham, Molly Brown, Molly E. Brown, Desmond Reifsnyder and Nolan Crandall.
The behind-the-scenes crews, led by technical directors Peter Miller and Grey Burkart, include Greta Smallidge, Samantha Park, Ethan Leonard, Conor Crandall, Nolan Crandall, Max Cornman, Emilia Cullen, Kevin Elk, Carley Henderson, Mason Gurtler, Alan Parsons, Cory Richards, Jacob Sanner, Pierce Vincenty, Emilia Cullen and Christina Closson. Marilee Marchese is in charge of costuming, while hair and makeup is done by Marchese, Frank Bachman and Chris Dougherty.