Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, April 2000
I am happy to say that I left the Mt. Greylock auditorium with a considerably happier heart than when the curtain fell after "Gigi" last month. "A Day In The Life" an effort by teacher Sunny Da Silva and various students in the Mt. Greylock Middle School (grades 7 and 8) was fun to watch and vigorously performed. It just proves that what you need to create good theatre is not money but energy and enthusiasm - two things these young performers had in spades.
The show centered on the efforts of a "Wanna Be' to join one of the many cliques - Cool Guys, Nice Girls, Snobs, Smarties, Class Clowns, Wierdos and the Neglected - that have existed in schools since someone thought up the brilliant idea of warehousing adolescents in that way. Cleverly the members of each clique were designated by identical masks designed by students Kiersten Bell, Emily Cohane-Mann, Melissa Card, and Nicole Castella. This enabled the parts to be cast across types and across sexes, and I think in many ways freed the performers from whatever self-conciousness they may have suffered with them.
Only Alison Kate Cherkis as the Wanna Be and Hal Laidlaw as the Outsider and narrator wore their own faces.
But there were no star turns and this truly was an ensemble effort. I understand that Da Silva's English class came up with the plot and assisted in the writing of the piece, but that the casting and backstage roles were open to any 7th and 8th graders who wanted to be involved. What is wonderful is how many of them did want to be involved. In my lament about "Gigi" I remarked how sad it was that the high schoolers did not seem interested in being part of the Spring musical anymore, that drama had somehow morphed into something "uncool" while I wasn't looking. But if this next generation of Mt. Greylock students has this much interest and enthusiasm, perhaps there is hope for the future.
My only complaint about "A Day In The Life" was the predictable message of the plot. Kids this age with this much energy can get out there and do a play about ANYTHING. I hope that this effort is just the beginning of a real drama program for the middle school - where students and teachers can create and perform their own shows, or other people's shows, or whatever turns them on. It is such an important way to focus all that energy that can otherwise wander off on destructive paths in adolescence.
But enough about what I didn't like. I did like a great deal of what I saw on the stage. I liked the Class Clowns very much and wish we had had more of a look at their motivation and inner lives. I really enjoyed the script, although I was not fooled into believing that the students "wrote it". That is not to say that I don't believe kids that age are capable of writing a coherent script, but there were too many angles presented that only an adult would think of to allow me to believe that it was a totally student written effort. Besides, I am quite convinced that, if you let kids write about anything they wanted to, they wouldn't always write about peer pressure and send moral messages.
Loved the backdrops designed by Sarah Jane Acheson. I especially liked the ironic posters in the hallways touting "Respect" and "Teamwork" while the fractured cliques scurried beneath them. My favorite was the big poster in the cafeteria scene which read "Your Average Middle School Cares About What You Eat" Yeah, right.
Despite my whining about the peer pressure plot, I did like the straightforwardness with which adolescent sexuality was handled. No one wants to think about high school students having libidos, let alone kids in 7th and 8th grade, but indeed they do, and matters of the heart matter very much to them. Coupling, uncoupling, communicating, and finding ways to express affection and attraction are all monumental events in the lives of kids this age. It was fun and refreshing to see these issues handled with humor and as a natural and acceptable part of growing up.
I wish I could tell you that "A Day In The Life"was still playing and that you could high-tail it to Mt. Greylock and see it, but you can't. Maybe it will resurrect itself somewhere. I personally hope that Da Silva and company try to market their script and get it published. Hey, just 'cause I don't like those peer pressure plots doesn't mean that there aren't scores of schools out there clamoring for a show just like this. I think it would be a very interesting real world lesson for this group to see what they can do with what they have created.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2000