McLean High School
A laid-back teenage boy in beat up jeans and a loose t-shirt stares into a blinding sunrise and recites the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost. He doesn't understand it yet, but through gang violence and impulsive heroism, he soon will. In an intimate black box theater, The New School of Northern Virginia was captivating in their dedicated performance of "The Outsiders".
Based on the classic 1967 book by S. E. Hinton and adapted by Christopher Sergel, "The Outsiders" tells the story of the intelligent 14-year-old orphan Ponyboy and his group the "Greasers", the downtown kids whose rivalry with rich-kid group the "Socials", or the "Socs", takes a dramatic turn when Ponyboy's friend Johnny accidentally kills a Soc.
Playing the All-American hero Ponyboy was Harry Sheikerz, leading the audience through his memories with casual confidence and ease. Sheikerz's performance was spot on and his relationships with other characters were engaging. His friendship with fellow Greaser Johnny (Joe Neff) was particularly moving. After being viciously attacked by Socs, Johnny suffers from severe anxiety and must also deal with a neglectful family. Stuttering often and jumping at violent memories, Neff's total commitment to his character was impressive. Neff's nervous performance with bursts of courage made his character endearing and the tragedies in his life even more heart-wrenching.
The Greasers formed a boisterous but close-knit group with complex dynamics, showing the unique relationships between every character. Two Bits (Celia Martyn), a rowdy and goofy Greaser, demanded attention anytime she was onstage, making the audience laugh from her antics and cry from her pain. Often joking with her was Dallas (Sam Howard), a leader of the Greasers and Johnny's personal hero. Ponyboy's older sister, Darry (Maggie Duncan) demonstrated her tough love through scolding and high expectations, growing closer to Ponyboy through adversity.
Bob's (Theo Testa) death taught the Greasers that they weren't all that different from the Socs. Testa's convincing drunken rage was only one facet of him, and his death broke the hearts of many, including his sweet girlfriend Cherry (Annie Kraemer) and understanding friend Randy (Jimmy Stluka). The ensemble on both sides performed a dramatized final "rumble" with clean fight choreography and dedication, creating chaos and panic onstage.
A neutral-toned minimalist set was effective in the cozy black box, and was highlighted by excellent student-designed lighting which smoothly transitioning from scene to scene and helped clearly define the setting. The lighting also aided the audience in visualizing surrounding events whether it was a golden sunrise or the flames from a burning church. Realistic heartbeats and car sound effects heightened emotional moments and added suspense, and a final recorded letter from Johnny finished the show tenderly.
The New School of Northern Virginia provided poignancy in their commendable performance of "The Outsiders", reminding us all to stay passionate, to work hard, and to stay golden.
George Mason High School
Privilege: some have it, some don't, and the sparring between the haves and the have-nots is as old as humanity itself. In the New School of Northern Virginia's production of "The Outsiders," the escalation of class warfare leaves both the characters and the audience with a new sense of understanding: it is the individual that matters.
Published in 1990 as a stage adaptation of S. E. Hinton's iconic 1967 novel, "The Outsiders" depicts the fraught relationship between two rival youth groups in 1960s Oklahoma: the working-class Greasers and the well-to-do Socs. Told from the perspective of the intelligent, 14-year-old Greaser Ponyboy, the story follows him and his best friend Johnny as they flee home after a deadly altercation with a young Soc. Touching on such themes as the pervasiveness of inter-class resentment and the importance of youth, the tale is eternally relevant, still connecting with readers and audience members a full half-century after Hinton first put it on paper.
The New School of Northern Virginia has delivered a striking, tear-worthy production of "The Outsiders." The performers dealt with the story's thematic depth with a maturity beyond their years, portraying serious topics like early death and socioeconomic inequality with realism and poignancy.
Taking on the demanding role of Ponyboy himself, junior Harry Sheikerz offered a performance laced with both the innocence of a young boy and the fire of a burgeoning adult faced with injustice. He successfully handled his position as the show's narrator, executing his many lengthy monologues with captivating skill and confidence. Sheikerz also maintained a stirring brotherly chemistry with Joe Neff, who portrayed Ponyboy's timid best friend Johnny. Neff himself, meanwhile, gave one of the most emotionally resonant performances of the night, imbuing his character with the perfect balance of anxiety and courageousness. He utilized his body to its fullest extent, trembling in fear in the face of a Soc attack or struggling against his own legs after his paralyzing accident in the second act.
As a widely group-driven production, the show also boasted several memorable supporting performances. Junior Annie Kraemer gave a touchingly melancholy portrayal of Cherry, a Soc whose boyfriend Bob (Theo Testa) is killed after a drunken attack on Ponyboy and Johnny. Her soft voice and poised demeanor formed a welcome contrast to the play's otherwise harsh atmosphere. Sam Howard, meanwhile, delivered a nuanced, heart-wrenching interpretation of Dallas, the roughest of the Greasers. He particularly wowed in the second act, when his character's usual cocky, streetwise persona fell away in the wake of Johnny's death. His portrayal of grief was breathtakingly sophisticated. Finally, the production was offered a refreshing dash of comic relief by senior Celia Martyn, who played the flirtatious, wise-cracking Greaser Two-Bit. Martyn's constant skirt-chasing swagger was delightfully engaging.
The production also found considerable success in its technical elements. Lighting designer Jonathan Rushbrook added an ethereal beauty to the show, particularly during moments when Ponyboy stepped out of the action to directly address the audience. Rushbrook's designs perfectly accentuated the tone of each scene, from the flickering red of the flames during the church fire of the second act to the simple halo around Johnny as he lay in the hospital afterward. Meanwhile, Caedmon Cooper, James Dombroski, and Isabella Chevez skillfully executed a variety of well-timed, thoughtful sound effects throughout the show. The constant thud of the heartbeat effect during the hospital scenes was notably chilling.
The students of the New School of Northern Virginia have created a deeply satisfying, emotionally cathartic production of "The Outsiders." As Ponyboy takes his first steps into adulthood, the audience is left with one thought: "Stay gold."