Thanks for good drama

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(Host) Commentator Allen Gilbert reflects on two plays he saw this year. He’s grateful for the efforts that community members put into the shows.

(Gilbert) At year’s end, I like to count blessings that come through the efforts of our fellow citizens. I often think of people who in some way entertain us — musicians, artists, and writers, for example. This year I’d like to say “thanks” to actors and actresses — people who have mounted stages this year to perform for us.

I’m thinking especially of two shows that I saw this year. They were quite different, in terms of themes, production, and players. But both, in their own way, were excellent.

The first was “Good Girls.” The play is set in a small New York town in the 1940s. A woman returns after an 18-year absence. She holds a secret that her old friends — who never left the town — dread that she’ll reveal. Their comfortable lives will be ruined if the secret is told.

The remarkable thing about the production was that it was put on by local folks in a tiny town hall with just two weeks’ practice. Props were minimal. Some of the performers hadn’t been on a stage in years. But they shared a desire to pull together, in their community, a high-quality theatre production. They succeeded, wonderfully.

Key to their efforts was director Alan Wynroth. Wynroth was active with Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier for 10 years. More recently he’s run theater classes at the Circle Rep in New York and the Williamstown, Mass., Theatre Festival. His wife, Jean Reynolds, wrote the play, “Good Girls.” A local actor invited Wynroth and Reynolds to help create a new community theater, in Middlesex. Wynroth suggested they begin with workshops. He’d do an acting workshop, his wife a playwriting workshop. The acting workshop led to the production of “Good Girls.”

The second play was “The Survivor.” It’s the story of a group of Jewish teenagers in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. The teenagers pledge that if any of them survives the ghetto, the slave labor camps, and the gas chambers, that person will tell their story. “The Survivor” is that story, written by the only one of the group who survived.

This show was produced by students at U-32 High School in East Montpelier. The students, and their faculty advisors, took a big risk in staging “The Survivor.” It’s not easy to perform. The play demands an emotional depth that many adults would have difficulty providing. The students could have failed. But they didn’t. Their performance was stunning.

The production also showed that really great learning in a school community goes beyond the classroom. The learning also touches adults in the community. There were few dry eyes among the audience at the performance that I attended. We were misty-eyed because of the power of the story, because of the power of our students to tell us the story, and because of the new perspectives that the students said they gained from the play.

A fictional drama about a small-town secret, a recounting of one person’s survival of the Holocaust. Thanks, friends and neighbors, for informing and enriching our lives in 2003 through your skills on stage.

This is Allen Gilbert.

Allen Gilbert of Worcester is a writer and parent who is active in education issues.

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