A veteran cast at St. Mary High School will be staging a whodunit with a twist.
The students are performing the two-act mystery farce While The Lights Were Out in which a police inspector must solve the puzzle surrounding two deaths at an estate in Bermuda.
Grade 12 student Joel Parchomchuk is in his seventh high school production, in his role as Pierre Pourri. He says While The Lights Were Out is a different kind of play, the result is the same for the cast.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve done a murder mystery but this is the first time it’s been murder mystery and comedy,” Parchomchuk says. “Every show is different. Every show is a lot of fun but you meet new people and make new friends. It’s just a joyous occasion.”
Grade 11 student Anthony Loeffen, who plays butler Roderick Remley, agrees.
“It’s a great opportunity to make friends, have fun and do what we love to do,” Loeffen says.
St. Mary drama teacher Jason Van Otterloo, who serves as director, likes his veteran cast and young support staff.
“They’ve been great to work with,” he says. “There’s something about that comfort level where they’re further along every step of the process because they’re not relearning something, they’ve already caught it.”
Van Otterloo reads plays during the summer and decides on the productions, partially on the students who will be involved.
He tends to pick bigger productions because, as he puts it, “I get 30 or 40 kids who audition so picking a play with six kids doesn’t really use my resources and build up the system for next year and the year after.”
While The Lights Were Out has 14 actors on stage with a team of six backstage. The musical that the school puts on in second semester typically involves a total of 60 to 80 students.
Grade 12 student Celine Grimard plays the soon-to-be-late Jasmine Perdoo.
“In the musicals, you’re usually singing and dancing where in this I have to push limits and actually act,” Grimard says.
In the role she’s cast, she faces the extra pressure of performing an onstage death.
“It’s kind of hard just to allow yourself to fall to the floor,” Grimard says. “They have to carry me. It’s kind of awkward.”
The 100-minute play, which has a 15-minute intermission, was written in the 1960s but very little tinkering had to be done to give it a modern feel.
“The first two acts are very straight, they’re very serious,” Van Otterloo says. “There’s no hint of what’s to come. Act three is a complete farce, it goes into a complete comedy realm.”
Parchomchuk says it’s a play where the audience must keep a close eye on the stage.
“You have to pay attention. At some shows you’re watching the whole time and you just watch the actors fall into character but some you have to pay attention to more of the detail along the way,” Parchomchuk says.
That creates an extra challenge for the cast, he says.
“You have to work for the character and portray those details so the audience will key in on them,” he says.
Van Otterloo chuckles when asked what special trials his actors face.
“It’s high school; one of the biggest challenges is I ask them to kiss,” he says. “There are 10 of the 14 who have to kiss. If you’re working with professional actors, there’s that assumption that you’re going to do it and work through it. When you’re working with students who are learning what acting’s all about, that’s a big step. It’s interesting.”
The play opened on Wednesday and continues until Saturday each night at 7:30 p.m. at the St. Mary Lecture Theatre. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and are available at the office or at the door during evening performances.