"Who's Crazy Now" opened in Dolores on Friday night to an expectant crowd of about 100 family members and friends of the Dolores Middle School and High School. There was energy zinging in the air before the show started.
The stakes were high: This was the first theater performance at the school in several years since budget cuts shut down the program. An anonymous gift of $10,000 reopened the floodgates and made this zany production possible. Dolores was primed to enjoy itself.
A collaboration between the middle and high school, the show is weighted toward the younger set.
Directed by Angela Gabardi of Cortez, it is an ambitious and largely successful effort given the relatively young cast. Fortunately, if there's one thing middle schoolers have, it's plenty of energy and fearlessness, and this cast tackles their parts with abandon, clearly enjoying themselves.
On opening night, the audience included many young students, largely middle-schoolers who were wildly supportive of their friends on stage. Family members too were swept up in the merriment of the evening. Intermittent references to Dolores High School sprinkled throughout the script added to the home town fun.
Casey McClellan's character, Dr. J. Manchester-Sullivan, is at the epicenter of a confused identity plot. Delivered with a refreshing lack of self-consciousness, McClellan's flailing limbs, staggers, lunges and unbridled goofiness make him a delight to watch, even when we have difficulty at times understanding his lines.
Maggie Copeland and Rachel Sparks both do a stand up job of playing the foils to all the craziness around them. Sparks, as the sensible, no-nonsense director of an asylum for retired teachers who have gone insane from careers in teaching (OK, it's not "Hamlet"), provides a solid backdrop with her comfortable presence on stage and well-delivered lines that were easy to hear. Copeland was quite convincing as the easily confused ingénue with the love interest. Occasionally, her gestures and body language did not fit the emotions she was expressing, but it was easily overlooked because she fit her part so well.
Other standouts included Madison Lankford as the art teacher and Zenda Olson as the English teacher. Their performances were unself-conscious, and their facial expressions comedic and fun to watch.
Overall, the opening night show was well-paced, lines were memorized, energy was high, and there were no apparent snags with either the set or the props. Credit should be given to stage manager, Autumn Seeber, and her crew for helping the machinery of the play to run smoothly. Set design by Olivia Benson was spare, but adequate, and lighting went off (an on) without a hitch.
In a show like this, pandemonium is expected; that becomes part of the humor. And yet it is easy for it to devolve into chaos. The director and her young cast managed to avoid the chaos most of the time, hard to do when a majority of the players are barely old enough to remember a time when twitter was still a verb. Much of the show's humor relied heavily on visual gags, an overuse of tongues sticking out, shrieking, and dashing hither and yon. Nonetheless, the audience laughed at the jokes, roared at the physical humor, and forgave mumbled lines and occasionally hard-to-follow dialogue.
Late in the play, Cael McHenry, as the beleaguered Dr. Van, observes "There's a thin line between sanity and insanity." Most of us have been familiar with this line at some time in our life. The cast of "Who's Crazy Now?" showed us how to cross the line from adult sensibility and step into a sillier state of mind where gags are the norm and jokes and antics become the new currency.
As the audience left the auditorium, the cast and crew formed a double line thanking every person for coming, reminding us that the real fun of a show like this is watching our kids enjoy themselves.