The Community High School Community Ensemble Theatre is getting serious … but not too serious.
The young thespians are staging “Inherit the Wind,” March 15-18 at Community High School’s Craft Theater, and the subject matter might seem a bit heavy at first glance. Take a read:
Based on the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, “Inherit The Wind” fictionalizes the infamous trial of a high school teacher bringing human evolution into the classroom. The play premiered in 1955, and was written as a commentary on the McCarthyism of the time. Since then, it has seen many revivals and been adapted for the screen several times, still resonating today.
Sound a little heavy? Not to worry, says Forrest Hejkal, who will direct the Community Ensemble Theatre’s rendition of “Inherit the Wind.” The play – and the students’ presentation of it – carries plenty of entertainment value.
“It’s a serious subject matter, but there are comedic moments, light moments, humor in the play,” said Hejkal, an Ann Arbor-area freelance dramatist. “If you didn’t know better, it might sound very academic, dry and historical, but that’s not the case.
“There are important stories being told, but not in a heavy-handed way. The stories are full of life and fun. The kids bring the characters to life; make them playful.”
“Fun and playful” seems to be a theme among members of Community Ensemble Theatre.
“What they lack in experience, they more than make up for in enthusiasm,” Hejkal said.
It doesn’t take long to hear that enthusiasm in the actors’ voices. Aris Chalin, a Community High junior who plays prosecuting attorney Matthew Harrison Brady in “Inherit the Wind,” has long loved the stage.
“I was in a production of “The Sound of Music” when I was in the fourth grade; I played a Nazi storm trooper,” said Chalin. “It electrified me. It allowed me to be on stage and help tell this amazing story to all these people. I was hooked right from the start.”
It might seem a stretch for a fourth-grader to play a fascist soldier, but acting is all about challenges, according to Chalin. He faces a challenge in playing Brady in “Inherit the Wind.”
“My character is 60 years old and I’m 16,” he said. “I have to learn to talk like a 60-year-old, to walk like a 60-year-old, and I have to sound believable when I say I don’t believe in evolution. Believable without being a hateful caricature. It’s a challenge, but that’s what makes it fun.”
The Community Ensemble Theatre actors are young, but some of them have more than a little experience under their belts. Lily Gechter, for instance, has been in seven productions at Community High – including “Spamalot, a musical adaptation of Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” She has also appeared in “Peter Pan” and “Seussical” at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.
Gechter, a 17-year-old senior, plays Rachel Brown, a preacher’s daughter and the girlfriend of Bertram Cates, the man on trial in “Inherit the Wind.” She calls this character different than any she has ever played.
“This is by far the most grounded character for me,” she said. “I’ve played some pretty over-the-top characters before and I’ve really enjoyed it. But this is different. This is a challenge, and I like it.”
Even though she has been acting for several years, Gechter says nerves are still an issue.
“I have audition anxiety,” she said. “Auditions are the first impression you make and I can freak out about that sometimes. That’s a lot worse for me than the actual performance. I mean, I’m nervous before the play starts, but once we begin those nerves go away.”
Both Gechter and Chalin say they enjoy working for Hejkal, as they are approximately midway through the rehearsal process for “Inherit the Wind.” Hejkal is filling in for longtime Community Ensemble Theatre sponsor Quinn Strassel, who now is co-sponsoring at Ann Arbor Pioneer.
“(Hejkal) is very focused, he’s really aware of how much time we have to get prepared and he uses that time well,” said Chalin. “He’s got a take-charge type of attitude that really works. I like him.”
Hejkal says he is having as much fun working with the students as they are.
“Oh, rehearsals are going great,” he said. “It was a little bumpy at first. We started, then there was finals week that kind of interrupted things, but we’re back on track now. Things are going well.
“I think it’s going to be a great show.”
WHAT: Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
WHO: Community High School’s Community Ensemble Theatre, directed by Forrest Hejkal and technically directed by Brice O’Neal
WHERE: All performances in Craft Theater at Community High School
WHEN: March 15, 16, 17 (two shows) and 18
TICKETS: Soon will be available at showtix4u.com. Call 734-994-2025 for more information.
PHOTO CREDIT: MARGIE MORRIS
NOTE: Photos of previous CHS performance except rehearsal photo.