Westfield High School
3, 2, 1… Happy New Year! At the turn of the millennium, it was as if time had stopped. For the assembly of misfits confined within a small-town train station, all they could do was wait: wait for hope, wait for change, wait for trains. James Madison High School's dynamic production of Waiting on Trains will certainly leave you eagerly waiting for more.
Waiting on Trains is a one-act play written by D.M. Larson. Illustrated through the integration of dialogue, movement, and technical enhancements, the piece tells the story of how five walks of life converge in the "magnet of the lowest life forms": a train station. From an arrogant businesswoman chasing her father's approval to a homeless man simply searching for a quiet place to sleep, the characters learn to reassess what constitutes life's most impactful moments.
Thoughtfully selected, cast, and directed by student director Talissa Uman, the cast and crew opted to film an in-person, onstage performance adhering to all COVID-19 and VHSL guidelines. Under Uman's leadership, the students of James Madison effortlessly overcame the limitations of transparent masks and social distancing, even without the use of microphones or editing. The entire cast's commitment to conveying their characters was apparent, and the dialogue was always audible and supported by a combination of verbal and non-verbal storytelling techniques.
Frantically racing onto the stage, Elenora Fiel immediately established her character's conceited nature through her invigorated portrayal of Sue, the pompous businesswoman. From her moments of sheer pessimism to revealing the motives behind her determined facade, Fiel maintained Sue's quick-tempered persona throughout the show. Kirk, played by Ashton Rauch, exhibited an energy that matched his female business counterpart; amid their frustrations, Kirk and Sue became bound by their shared realities, and together the pair commanded the stage (or, more fittingly, the train station). In contrast, the three small-town natives were equally important figures. Stella Monner embraced Verna with an unwavering presence as the train ticket saleswoman who fell victim to Sue's arrogance; William Bush exhibited his wits through his charismatic portrayal of Jean the janitor; and Benjamin Eggleston fully embodied Rut, the hysterically delusional drifter whose banter with Sue provided comic relief.
Throughout the show, various technical elements supported the actors; to ensure that attention was not diverted away from the plot, the crew took a minimalistic yet comprehensive approach. Since the performance was unedited, stage manager Susan Weinhardt played an integral role in creating a seamless flow. Paired with the thoughtfully constructed prop and set designs of Denali Greer and Nic Crews, every technical choice reflected and reinforced the setting and various characterizations. Additionally, clever stage choreography and blocking displayed an authenticity that brought the story to life. In one climactic moment towards the end of the production, rather than simply running off stage, Kirk and Sue race down the stairs into the auditorium; this seemingly small detail allowed the train station to transcend the stage limits as the pair began their journey back to Seattle.
Just as all hope of leaving the cavernous abyss seemed lost, Kirk and Sue discovered light at the end of the tunnel. The midnight train to Seattle arrived, and the couple were whisked away from their inconvenient plight. While the troublesome pair managed to escape their predicament, some were not as fortunate. For those left waiting endlessly for their trains to arrive, James Madison High School's intriguing performance of Waiting on Trains suggests "maybe you've been looking for the wrong thing."
Westfield High School
Two business execs wait as fast as they can, a bored ticket woman toys with them, and the shrill tones of God are heard briefly at Madison High School's revelatory train station. What significance does a computer really hold in relation to a self-awakening? The cast of "Waiting on Trains" experienced the shuffling progress of the new millennium as they simultaneously turned a page within themselves in a sweet and truthful piece of theatre.
The play was written by D.M. Larson, an active playwright. The play takes place in a train station on New Year's Eve 1999 as five people are waiting for a train: two businesspeople, a ticket-taker, a janitor, and a homeless man. The businesspeople are anxious for the train to come and the employees are anxious to leave, but as the night goes on all of them learn what parts of life really matter.
As high-strung businesswoman Sue, was Elenora Fiel. With her slightly crazed and indefatigable zeal, Fiel charged on set and her energy never faltered. Fiel showed her character's harried demeanor through her snappy encounter with the ticketer Verna. Her mounting annoyance at Verna's unhelpfulness was shown through more agitated physicality and line delivery, which set the tone for the rest of Sue's indomitable character. Working as a foil to Sue's impatient fierceness was the ticket taker Verna, played with the right combination of boredom and flirtation by Stella Monner. Monner showed Verna's dissatisfaction with her job through her complete indifference to whether the prophesied train ever showed up or not. She also rounded her character out by adding more energy when Verna was flirting with businessman Kirk. Monner's physicality was very relaxed and casual, which emphasized Verna's very different approach to waiting for the train from Sue, whose rigid, proper physicality showed tension and impatience.
The tipsy homeless man, Rut, was played by Benjamin Eggleston. With his lolling movements and intermittent cries, Eggleston's Rut provided comedic relief and a funny addition to many scenarios, for example, when he mistook Sue's angry exhortations for the words of God. The interchange between a frustrated, pants-suited woman and a drink-addled disciple calling out in confusion was a moment Eggleston hammed up to the max, utilizing his full body to bring the humor home. In the role of the hyper-focused businessman Kirk was Ashton Rauch. Whether sharing his fears, asking for a power cord, or typing furiously, Rauch retained Kirk's frenetic air. His laser-focus on his computer and his quick movements helped Rauch create a distinct aura for Kirk.
The whole production had to be (and was) physically distanced, but the blocking was cleverly created, by student-director Talissa Uman, to make the distancing seem normal and unnoticeable. The props, by Denali Greer and Nic Crews, also played a key role in the production. Since everything was minimalist, what props there were, were strategic and effortful, with the suitcases looking period appropriate and the broom adding to the janitor's (William Bush) physical comedy.
It's time to leave the station and catch the train, wherever it goes. Madison High School's production showed that it's not where you go but what you value that matters in life.