Total awesomeness attained by all at PHS fall play

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Sixteen actors and nine secondary ensemble players blend their talents in the PHS Drama Department’s fall production of “The Only Thing between Me and Total Awesomeness.”

Saturday night’s closing performance of the Perry High School Drama Department’s production of “The Only Thing between Me and Total Awesomeness” shows how widely shared the acting talents are within the department.

The play consists of 16 brief vignettes, each featuring a character who dwells on this side of perfection and who is dealing with a decision or dilemma or difficulty from ordinary life. The problems are all soluble and lightly handled by the sprightly cast. There is no Alzheimer’s or terminal cancer between me and total awesomeness, no schizophrenia or bipolarity. Progress toward perfection is happily possible.

On the other hand, some progress is easier than other. If you do not have the brains for math, like the character of Abby, played bubbly by senior Alex Tasler, then that is the end of the story. I learned that hard fact a long time ago. Same with Jack, played by senior Jason Wells, and his “anger issues.” Even if we treat it with medications and call it “intermittent explosive disorder,” the challenge of impulse control is deadly serious.

A “technical difficulty” arises with the character of Ruby, played by senior Dannah Karolus. Prior to Ruby, each character is open and up front about his or her defect. Senior Bridgette Murphy’s Jane is even sheepishly apologetic because she feels her impediment to awesomeness is not interesting or exciting enough compared with others’ issues. Jane cannot manage to clean her room.

Ruby is different. She admits no defect. In her opinion, she has already attained complete and perfect awesomeness. “Nothing stands between me and awesomeness,” she says in several variations and says so pointedly that for a moment it begins to sound like the kind of existential theme heard in some 20th century plays, where “nothing” becomes something very important indeed.

But no, Ruby is not a prey to existential angst or nausea. Meaningless absurdity does not stand between her and awesomeness. Nothing does, by which she means she is flawless, without excess or defect, altogether and ideally perfect. Her friends gently suggest that she might be lacking a little in humility, humbleness, modesty.

But no, Ruby arrogantly assures her critics that her pride even comprehends perfect humility. Pride goeth before a fall, as proverbial wisdom teaches us, and Ruby’s fall comes at the end of the set and in the character of Allison, played by senior Bree Martin.

Allison herself has female issues or, more narrowly, women’s issues. After telling the audience that she comes from a long line of powerful and accomplished women, from scientists and inventors to college professors and childbearers of eight or more, she says the true standard of excellence in her family is baking pastries, specifically, the strawberry rhubarb pie.

The only thing between Allison and awesomeness is satisfying the exacting taste of her clan’s female moiety, which huddles and whispers when it is not making cutting remarks to one another across the kitchen. The game hardly seems worth the candle, but Allison is determined to prevail by one day baking the perfect pie.

Allison returns near the end of the play to squirt catsup on Ruby’s snow-white blouse. Maybe this is intended to be symbolic, like the “handkerchief spotted with strawberries” in “Othello.” At any rate, the message seems to be that people who think themselves awesomely perfect must be pelted with smut in order to make them conscious of their imperfections and to show them that society does not take kindly to the proudly perfect.

“No matter the problem,” playwright Alan Haehnel says in his synopsis to the play, “everyone ends up with boundless hope that, when they have overcome the obstacle, awesomeness will prevail.” This description might not quite fit the “technical difficulty” of Ruby but seems otherwise awesome.

The lighting, sound, makeup, costumes and other technical aspects of the production seem very good, and the pacing of the quick-change scenes are well directed by Randy Peterson and Jenn Nelson.

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