Freedom High School
After the witching hour and before the sunrise, at 4 A.M. most of the world is asleep. For those that aren't, it's a time that feels almost unreal, but at the same time, more honest than any hour of daylight. It's strange but sincere, just like Westfield High School's production of 4 A.M.
4 A.M. is a play written by Jonathon Dorf. It tells the story of teenagers who experience different struggles, but are connected by the late hour.
4 A.M. opened and closed with Brian Purtell as Frankie, an amateur host of his own 4 A.M. radio show. With playful gestures and silly voices, Purtell portrayed every joke and bit with the energy of a radio host. Purtell also snuck in little moments of teenage awkwardness and sincerity with every silent pause and "Is anyone out there?".
Frankie's scenes were further enhanced by props, done by Justin Neil. Frankie had a microphone, a "recording" sign, and a sound board with lights that moved in time with his voice. These props made his setting feel real and helped the audience to fall into the story as soon as it began.
Another stand out scene was Monica and Anne's virtual sleepover. Rachel Neil portrayed the bright Anne with loud hilarity. Payton Kuhlman played Monica, who looked so genuinely tired, it felt like she really did film at 4 a.m. Kuhlman's weariness was the perfect contrast to her friend's Anne-tics and endless energy.
Despite their contrast Neil and Kuhlman managed to pull off a cohesive connection that was simply astounding for a completely virtual production
Zoe Brennan played the part of Jane, a girl writing a letter of complaint to a knife company. Her scene was one with many shifts and layers, with everything from Jane writing about her failed suicide attempt, to her finding Frankie's silly 4 A.M. radio show. Brennan met every shift with realistic emotions and each movement was genuinely expressive. It was a simple scene with just one actor and no big movements, but Brennan used that simplicity to make a scene that was truly touching.
In another scene Sleeper Kid interacts with the monsters in her room. One of these was played by Rachel Neil, who was added in post-production as a shadowy figure. Their interactions were almost unnatural, but rather than detracting from the scene it added to its strange atmosphere.
But perhaps the real monster in this production is the insane amount of work editors, Rachel Neil and Krishna Purohit, must have put into making this show. It had everything from simple sound effects like sirens, echoes, and laugh tracks to fully animated monsters that flew around the room.
One element you should be sure not to sleep on was the transitions between scenes. When the show switched scenes it would zoom out, sliding across the wall of an apartment where each window frame was filled with a different vignette. This method of transition was eye-catching and exemplified the themes of the play. It reminded the audience that all the vignettes, while separate and unique, took place in the same world at the same time, and in that way the characters really weren't as alone as they felt.
With actors that just seemed like people, sets that just looked like rooms, and editing that pulled it all together and made it even better, Westfield High School's 4 A.M. didn't feel like a show or a performance. It felt like a genuine glimpse into the lives of each character.
Freedom High School
In the wee hours of the morning, reality seems to be more flexible. It is a time of indescribable loneliness and bottomless contemplation. For many teenagers, it can be a struggle to realize that they're not alone in the world. Westfield High School's 4 A.M. seamlessly intertwined the lives of many young adults, each going through their own private struggles.
This one act production of 4 A.M. is based on the book and full-length musical by Jonathan Dorf, with music and lyrics by Alison Wood, and has been played by many theatre groups over the years. However, Westfield High School's version definitely went above and beyond its predecessors.
The characters' personalities were effectively fleshed out, particularly that of Frankie, a radio show host played by Brian Purtell. The fact that a radio host was using physical props that would be unseen to listeners was indicative of Frankie's innate desire to be noticed by others. This was already apparent by Frankie's repeated question, "Is anyone out there?" but the props added a special layer of depth to his character, particularly that of the sweatshirt being used as a Grim Reaper puppet.
The production was perfectly cohesive, which lent a lot of credibility towards the scenes in which some of the characters were video calling one another. This was especially noticeable in the sleepover scene with Rachel Neil as the maniacal Anne, and Payton Kuhlman as Monica. The editing in the vignette cut the characters speaking at the appropriate times, which really brought out the contrasting personalities in the characters. This positively affected the comedy in the scene, because Monica's reaction to Anne stealing her cat as a hostage was perfectly timed.
Of course, the amazing animation, impeccable lighting, and well-placed sound effects would not have been possible without Rachel Neil and Krishna Purohit as techs. Their combined efforts yielded impressive animations of shadow monsters in the vignette about the monster under the bed, as well as varying sound effects. Added details like creaking floors and crackling fires made the scene realistic and relatable. In addition, the use of mostly artificial lighting throughout the play combined with blacked-out windows created the sense of being awake in the middle of the night with only the lights of a bedroom on.
While the play discussed some dark topics such as suicide, they did so with a healthy dose of humor and hopefulness. Zoe Brennan played Jane, whose vignette started as a suicide note, but transitioned into a letter that portrayed a gratefulness for life. The genuine sorrowful and thankful facial expressions made for a heartwarming (and breaking) experience.
The cast and crew of 4 A.M. has undeniable talent. From the amazing apartment animation linking the vignettes together to the tactfully contrasting character personalities, 4 A.M. proved itself to be a must see for any teenager who has pondered the mysteries of the universe late at night and wondered, "Is anybody out there?"