As Halloween leads into the Thanksgiving season, so did a series of one-act plays presented by Wethersfield High School students.
Minimal props and a predominantly black stage were the perfect setting for a dramatized reading of The Tell-Tale Heart, where Jack O'Leary gave an inspired performance of a murderer driven to confess his crime.
The arresting officers were played by seniors Joseph Scheuermann and Nathaniel Sommers.
"This play was less about character development and more focused on individual characters for a short period of time," said Sommers, who has been in drama all four years at WHS.
This was Scheuermann's first acting experience, but he said he had fun with it.
The Raven, another of Edgar Allan Poe's forays into madness was recited by five cast members dressed in black hoodies, followed by Poe's The Masque of the Red Death. Scheuermann was back as Prince Prospero in this dark classic where a group of nobles throw a masked ball to avoid catching the plague known as the Red Death.
Switching gears a bit, the next one-act was the Shirley Jackson tale of The Lottery, which horrified readers when it first appeared in The New Yorker almost 70 years ago. WHS staff filled in as townspeople in this realistically horrifying play where Tessie Hutchinson, played by Kayla Platania, gets the equivalent of the short straw and is subsequently stoned to death.
Perhaps the highlight of the night was an original one-act play written by WHS junior Kate Ayers, entitled Pumpkin Pie. A 2016 winner in the Hartford Stage drama contest, Ayers says the play about a dysfunctional family getting together for Thanksgiving was modeled on her family.
"There are a lot of things to work with there," she said. "Every day is another day of fodder for my writing."
It was Ayers' mother who came home from Hartford with the flyer that convinced her to give the Hartford Stage competition a try. It is Ayers' first time being involved with WHS drama, but writing has been a longtime interest.
"I started writing seriously when I was in seventh grade," she said.
She has written poetry, short stories, and books. In December, she will travel to New Orleans to attend the awards ceremony of the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creating Writing Competition, where her short story The White Light is a finalist.
"Every night I go to sleep and thank whatever external force is making this happen for me," she said.
Audra Saladin plays the little sister, Aubrey, in Pumpkin Pie. A freshman, she has been performing since she was eight years old.
"Drama is my happy place," she said. "The people are my favorite thing about it. They are the nicest people ever."
Saladin said the one-act play program was different for WHS, because it usually produces musicals.
Maria Kelley, who also played Belva Summers in The Lottery, was the irritated and sometimes obnoxious Italian mother Carmen in Pumpkin Pie. A junior, who moved here from Manchester in the middle of last year, said she had hoped to make friends through the drama program, and she has.
"I am Mexican and Hawaiian, and it was not natural for me using my hands to talk," she said, adding that Carmen was a hard character to get into. "I had a lot of lines, and it was a lot of hard work, but I feel that going through the process of the drama program and working together is definitely worth it."
Director Jeffrey Roets chose the one-act play format for the fall season production, and was pleased to include Ayers' play in the mix. He said this is the second year for the newly-renovated auditorium/theatre facility, which was completely torn down and built back as new.
Although the play's format was a bit of a departure, Producer Sondra Blanzaco said a musical performance will return in the spring. The eternally popular Fiddler on the Roof begins rehearsals the day after Christmas vacation. Performances will be on March 9 and 10.