As I drove to the Hiawatha Valley League One-Act Festival at the Lourdes School in Rochester, trying to keep my windshield from fogging and freezing on the inside and out Saturday, I kept thinking of the "Saturday Night Live" sketch of high school students performing angsty, student written and directed one-act plays. I was afraid that this was what I would have to sit through for the next seven hours.
Thankfully, the plays performed at the festival were very well done. Some were better than others, but none was close to being as bad as the plays represented on "SNL."
Seven schools competed including Lincoln High School from Lake Cty, Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School and Cannon Falls High School.
Plays ranged in creativity and entertainment. Stewartville's "Bad Grandmas," an original script, felt forced and over-the-top. It was about four women in a nursing home or assisted living, I'm not sure which, who tried to save the nursing home/assisted living from going bankrupt by stealing from visitors. The play was filled with jokes that could be interpreted as agist and others that revolved around the idea that insulting someone is humorous. The actors played their parts well, surprisingly well for the script that they were given, but the play just felt flat.
The three schools that won starring production awards were Triton High School, Byron High School and Cannon Falls High School.
The most unique one-act was Byron High School's "Wiley and the Hairy Man." The play was like a poem, being told through rhythm, repetition and movement. The entire cast was on stage for half an hour and told the story of Wiley trying to trick the Hairy Man three times so that the Hairy Man would stop bothering him. The only actor to play a single role was Josiah Rutgers, who played Wiley. The rest played a variety of characters. Maddie Harris, for example, played Willey's mother and was the tree that Wiley climbed to escape the Hairy Man. Other members were Wiley's dogs and the Hairy Man. When not a specific role, everyone was part of the chorus.
I could not look away for a moment; cast members moved together as though they had been practicing for years. The choreography was crisp, lines were delivered on beat and facial expressions were amazing. Throughout the performance I only noticed one tiny error, a cast member stumbled over the beginning of a line. The stumble was so small, however, that it sounded like she had a small air bubble in her throat that prevented her from speaking for one-tenth of a second. The judges were right in giving All-conference honor to the entire cast because while Wiley, his mother and the Hairy Man were the main characters, there would have been an obvious hole in the play if a single person did not perform perfectly.
Cannon Falls was the only local school to earn a Starring Production Award. The school performed "Hamlette," a comedy about students rehearsing "Hamlet."
"Hamlette" is a female Hamlet, who tries throughout the play to get her fellow cast members to refer to her as "Princess Hamlette" instead of "Prince Hamlet." Ophelia is played as a 21st century Valley Girl and the queen is told that the king could not make it to rehearsal and is given a puppet to use as the king. Instead of roosters crowing when the ghost of Hamlet/Hamlette's father appeared, one of the guards used a plastic chicken.
One of the loudest laughs of the entire day came when a character got tired of the chicken, took it from the guard and threw it across stage to offstage. It squeaked as is sailed through the air until it could be heard hitting the ground.
The students did a good job switching between Shakespearean language and modern vocabulary. I was impressed by the entire performance and thought that more than three of the students should have received All-conference awards. Josie Ramler, who played the queen and the puppet king, and Ben Gibson, who played Polonius and the ghost of Hamlet/Hamlette's father both won All-conference. They deserved the award.
Sam Auger also received All-conference for his exceptional sound work. I would have liked to see Hannah Singewal (Horatio) and Kressin Hartl (Hamlette) receive All-conference awards for their performances as well.