Rock Ridge High School
Putting on one show for all to see is a sure feat of strength. Putting on two completely different shows, however, is a true sign of hard work, dedication, and commitment. Woodbridge Senior High School's productions of Mockingbird and 110 Stories (collectively called Through the Eyes) are stories of people coming together in the face of adversity.
Both plays take on heavy themes. 110 Stories, written by Sarah Tuft, focuses on the aftermath of 9/11. Taken from the testimonies of everyday people, including a homeless man, a mother, and even a chiropractor, 110 Stories shows more of an honest, "off-camera" reaction to the unimaginable tragedy that happened almost 20 years ago. The second play, Mockingbird, is set after a school shooting. Eleven-year-old Caitlin, whose brother was among the killed, is an autistic girl who is struggling to understand the world around her and is facing the fact that her brother is gone. The question is: how do these two seemingly unrelated plays connect?
One way the two shows were connected was through the incredible use of space. Every part of the stage (and even the audience) is used for storytelling. In Mockingbird, space is used to convey how isolated Caitlin (portrayed by an endearing Kaylie Farfan) is from her fellow classmates. Space is also utilized in a way where the audience knows whenever Caitlin is feeling overwhelmed, therefore letting the viewers feel the same way she does. 110 Stories makes those in the seats part of the action. Nick Perkins, playing one of the heroic firemen, walks through the aisles as if he were truly in the staircase of the World Trade Center, sharing the panic he felt on that fateful day.
Another way these two shows are connected is through the lighting. For these two shows, one color sticks out to the audience in times of crisis: red. Designed by Skyler Hill, the lighting shifted to red whenever a period of chaos occurred. As it was the only shift in color throughout the show, viewers feel a sense of panic, of fear, whenever the stage turns a grim shade of red. Just like when Caitlin is at her most anxious, or when the people stuck in the north tower of the World Trade Center felt the south tower, and their world crashing down. With the help of the lighting, the audience truly feels the emotions that the characters are experiencing.
In the end, the experience is what tied the shows together. This generation of teenagers grew up in the shadow of 9/11, only experiencing the horrors that happened through news clips or stories from their elders. However, the issue of gun violence in schools is something that many students of this generation fear and possibly have faced themselves. The directing team, comprised of Lillie Cooper, Miriam Elhadidi, Skyler Hill, and Kevin Turcios, put together an incredible showcase of what grief, and maybe even solace, looks like in the event of the unthinkable. The students of Woodbridge Senior High School truly worked together well to show the audience what can happen when people come together to overcome a tragedy.
McLean High School
Loss is ubiquitous, though the way we each experience it is distinctly individual. Woodbridge Senior High School's production "Through the Eyes," a Winter Theatre Festival consisting of the One Acts "Mockingbird" and "110 Stories," dove deep into an exploration of sorrow, to bring heart, compassion, and community to an experience so highly varied, yet so fundamentally similar.
Written by Julie Jensen and first produced in 2014, "Mockingbird" paints a picture from the perspective of Caitlin, an 11-year old girl on the autism spectrum. After she loses her brother, the audience follows Caitlin's journey to make sense of a world without him in it, feeling every tense moment and echoing the sound of her rising heartbeat as it reverberates through the theatre.
Juxtaposing the isolation felt by Caitlin following the tragedy, "110 Stories" by Sarah Tuft captures the unifying nature of disaster through harrowing recounts of the experiences of survivors in New York on 9/11. Though told through individual monologues in intense detail, the community of a changed New York was distinct as each testimony offered unique and heart-wrenching insight into both the 110 stories of the World Trade Center that fell and the thousands of stories of those who watched it all happen.
With clean command and precision, Kaylie Farfan took the stage as Caitlin in "Mockingbird". Using careful manipulation of her speech patterns and vocal timbre, Farfan created a character of subtle power whose discomfort manifested in her meticulous physical movements, down to her expressive hand twining and angled-in feet. It was Caitlin's varied relationships that harbored the show's poignancy, and no scenes exemplified that more than the interactions between Farfan's Caitlin and her father, played by Michael Plaugher. Plaugher brimmed with shrouded and stifled emotion, grounding the tragedy of his family's circumstance, all while maintaining a comforting and paternal presence for Caitlin. The duo's cathartic emotional breakthrough epitomized the necessity of companionship and understanding in times of devastation.
From the ruins of September 11th rose a city of people willing to sacrifice everything for each other, and the ensemble cast of "110 Stories" encapsulated this reality of comradery born in catastrophe. Despite the monologue format, characters developed connections through animated movements across the stage, pantomime, synchronized breathing, and active listening, to physically communicate the togetherness of survivors on Ground Zero. Particularly memorable was Nick Perkins as FDNY firefighter Don Casey, as he ran through the stairs and seats of the audience, exhaustion evident in the tremor of his New York accent, transporting those watching into the smoke-saturated tower.
Each show transformed the stage thanks to the direction of Miriam Elhadidi for "Mockingbird" and Lillie Cooper, Skyler Hill, and Kevin Turcios for "110 Stories". Utilizing all the space provided, the directors of both shows created visually fluid stage pictures with their ensembles to assert the tense, overwhelming environments, and highlight individual actors in specific moments. The use of actors to create sound effects -from the hands rhythmically thumping on chests in "Mockingbird" to the slamming of boxes in "110 Stories"- submerged the audience in multi-sensory storytelling that sent chills through the theater.
Striking and strategic minimalism defined the technical aspects of "Through the Eyes". From the simple, muted grey set, to the use of only red lighting effects, all emphasis was placed on the performance of the actors, and the vulnerable humanity felt in these tragic experiences became tangible.
With tension, love, and ardor, Woodbridge Senior High School's production of "Through the Eyes" speaks to the universality of tragedy and humanity that can develop through experiences of sorrow.