Cast and crew members of the Mount Desert Island High School winning production of "The Dancers." The offering will be presented at the state competition in Millinocket in two weeks. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS DOUGHERTY

‘The Dancers’ triumphs at Drama Fest

Once again, Mount Desert Island High School’s one-act entry in the Eastern Regional Class B Drama Festival, held here over the weekend, will be going on to the finals with a first-place win.

Its performance of Horton Foote’s poignant play “The Dancers” was awarded a score of 289 points, just off a perfect 300.

Three of its lead actors, Griffin Graves, Mary Paola and Grace Drennan, took home well-earned all-cast honors, and the production itself received commendations. One went to Max Cornman and Jacob Sanner for sound design and execution. Emilia Cullen received a commendation for lighting design and execution. And Conor Crandall was honored for his magnificent 1950s era set, which managed to create five locations – a fully realized lunch counter, two separate living rooms, a humble cottage porch and a country lane with street lamp – all in just a few minutes of set-up time.

The lunching ladies of the MDIHS production of Horton Foote’s “The Dancers” won high praise and first place last weekend. Pictured, left to right, are Elise Robertson, Sarah Soucek, Natalie Rogers and Mary Paola.  PHOTO BY NAN LINCOLN

The lunching ladies of the MDIHS production of Horton Foote’s “The Dancers” won high praise and first place last weekend. Pictured, left to right, are Elise Robertson, Sarah Soucek, Natalie Rogers and Mary Paola.

The play is sort of a Texas-style weekend in “Our Town” in which Horace, a painfully shy teenager (realized with excruciating stiffness by Graves), is visiting his well-meaning, but meddlesome sister Inez (an excellent Elise Robertson). She has arranged a dancing date for him with her best friend’s popular daughter, Emily (an adorably obstinate Sarah Soucek). When Emily refuses to comply despite the manipulations of her histrionic mom (Mary Paola, whose high-strung energy and commanding stage presence brought to mind a young Holly Hunter), feelings are hurt, and friendships are imperiled. But the diffident Horace manages to find his own date for the dance in another shy teenager named Mary Catherine (subtly and sweetly played by Grace Drennan). The play ends with the two kids practicing dancing in the romantic light of a street lamp (just one of many excellent lighting effects).

Tarzan Munson, who brought just the right of amount of exasperated gravitas to the role of Inez’s husband, and Natalie Rogers, the eye-rolling waitress Lila, also delivered notable performances.

The performance, production values and individual performers received many kudos from the judges, including John Blanchette, who loved its lack of pretension. “Many one acts strive to be over the top, silly, weird or just plain frustrating,” he wrote. “You took the high road and reminded everyone that a simple boy-meets-girl story can be among the most affecting pieces of all to present.”

Director Casey Rush was both thrilled and somewhat amazed at how well his students came through some rough pre-performance conditions.

“We had 24 hours of rehearsals during the final week before the festival,” he said. “We missed so many days due to school cancellation, the cast, crew and staff all had to put in a grueling schedule to get the show to where we knew it needed to be for the competition. We all probably worked harder on this production in the last two weeks than on any show in recent memory.

“A week ago, I wasn’t sure we could pull off a win, but the result is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved.”

Also going on to the state competitions in Millinocket on March 20 and 21 will be Deer Island-Stonington’s production of Tom Stoppard’s clever and zany “Dogg’s Hamlet,” which starts out in complete gibberish and ends with a hilariously complete “Hamlet” in double-time.

Had there been an award for the most innovative and thought-provoking performance, it surely would have gone to George Stevens Academy’s fascinating adaption of the short story “Primum Non Nocere” (First Do No Harm) about an interestingly dysfunctional family with a psychologist mom who is oddly detached from her own children.

In the Class A regionals, Ellsworth High School’s “Under Milkwood” was the runner-up to Maine Central Institute, which performed “Orphan Train.”


See for yourself

“The Dancers” can be seen once more before the state competition. The Black Rose show, a benefit for the Black Rose fund used to renovate the Higgins-Demas Theater, will be held at Mount Desert Island High School on March 18. Also on the bill are MDIHS jazz combos and other acts. The show begins at 7 p.m.


Correction: An earlier version of this article contained errors. The text has been corrected. The Islander apologizes for the error.

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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