I went to the theatre this weekend. The THEATRE. Say it with any kind of inflection and you immediately seem pretentious. But my experience at the Bishop Marrocco Auditorium wasn’t pandering or pompous, it was real. The play was a traditional adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s 1960’s coming of age story The Outsiders. A story from a different time, a chilling depiction of the class struggle and how it affected young men trying to make their way with little to no adult help. There's loss, there's pain, there's glimpses at a better life and even love. To tackle this story, one that is so specific and dated, the Drama department at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton
Catholic Secondary School would have to grab the audience from moment one and transport us back to Tulsa, Oklahoma 1965. Ponyboy. Sodapop. Johnny Cade. Cher- ….what? I didn’t mention this was a high school play?
Yes. I got stoned and went to a high school play by myself. It was awkward. It was hilarious. It was everything I wanted and more.
I arrived five minutes before the show was supposed to start. Got my flimsy paper programme from the ticket booth, found a seat in the 6th row and settled in. A few moments later when I looked up from my phone I realized that the auditorium was big and cavernous, with row after row of seats lying empty. My goal had been to show up late as to not stand out amongst a crowd of family and friends watching their teenage thespian acquaintances. This did not pan out. All preconceived notions of large men with beards alone at high schools aside, I was very high and beginning to get paranoid. To my relief the auditorium began to populate about five minutes later. Families with bouquets of flowers, groups of teens taking snapchats, and, most interesting of all, two young ladies with a dog. A Pomeranian in fact, as I found out by asking the dog’s owners, who sat directly behind me. (Side Note: For sure don’t bring a DOG to a play. Figured that was obvious.) At least there was now a real audience, a boisterous one that only got louder as the play delayed its start by over 15 minutes. I read through the programme, replied to a few emails, and just as my paranoia had ceased, the lights dimmed. A spotlight hit the stage and instead of an actor, the directors come out to introduce us to what we were about to see.
I am raring to go. The show is late to start and I’ve been in an uncomfortable wooden seat for twenty minutes without entertainment, so as the directors educate us about the history of the school and the arts program, I do my best to pay attention. I came for the entire experience and this is something uniquely high school. Feeling the need to qualify exactly what the hell a play is, and what the cast and crew have been dedicating themselves to, serves as a primer for parents who aren't exactly on board with their kid doing the whole ‘drama’ thing. It’s genuine and nice, but let's go already! It’s 25 minutes after we were told curtain up was happening. The rest of the crowd is as restless as me. People start breaking out in their own conversations, so much so that I fail to notice the directors have left the stage. Suddenly the lights on stage flash on and the set is revealed. A couch and chair surround a small table with a telephone on it. A train track crossing sign is nailed to the wall. It’s gritty and effective. I feel like a greaser would live here. Just as the thought crossed my mind a slick haired young man steps onto stage, sits on the couch, and starts to dial the rotary phone. The show has begun.
One problem: People are still talking. A lot. Three or four separate conversations are happening on the fringes of the audience. One brave parent in front of me turns around and asks loudly for people to “Stop talking please!” and the conversations trickle to an end. All the while the poor actor is dialing the goddamn rotary phone like a champ, not breaking character. I swear he dialed like 14 numbers. It was a good minute of dialing. I won’t break the play down scene by scene or anything but let me supply you with my personal highlights:
1.) Ponyboy’s opening monologue – Five minutes by himself, exploring the space and even interacting with people in the front row. I liked this Ponyboy kid. He was onstage for almost the entire show and he did a great job. Sure he flubbed a line here and there, but he was the most consistent actor in the whole production. Plus it was documented in the programme that he hoped to pursue a career as an undercover cop after high school. Needless to say, he’s cool.
2.) Two Bit’s movements- The actor playing Two Bit was into it. He flailed around passionately when delivering his lines and then remained perfectly still when it wasn't his turn to speak. He once gestured his hands in a circular motion at another actor to get through their line quicker so that he could get to his. It was charming and hilarious.
3.) The actor playing Darry looked older than me.
4.) At intermission the curtain closed on an actor that was lying down dead and he had to scoot offstage (Classic).
5.) The dog only made noise once. Two separate babies cried. It managed to not detract from the experience.
6.) When the scene called for characters to be driving a car, the actors all just sat together and leaned side to side. Solid pantomime.
7.) The women in the cast were some of the best performers, but they had so little to play with. The directors chose to stick tight to the source material, with the sexism of the 60’s was front and centre multiple times. The actors didn’t flinch when faced with the subject matter. Their professionalism should be commended.
8.) The entire auditorium was used as their stage. The performance spilled out into the audience multiple times and the actors walked, ran and fought their ways through the aisles. It’s a classic high school play trope, but I was nonetheless riveted.
I felt a lot while watching The Outsiders. Most of the time I was cringing or trying to mask laughter, but in my favourite moments I felt appreciative to the actors. They put their hearts into it, and they committed and performed admirably.
The image that I left the theatre with was the entire cast sharing the stage to take a bow at the end. They were all so proud of themselves and their castmates, grinning from ear to ear. Their energy kept me smiling, too. Stay gold, Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School. Stay Gold.