High Schools and Fleas

Last night, we went to Van Nuys High School to see the Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet perform the play “A Flea In Her Ear.” We went primarily because nsshere is about to graduate middle school, and thus we have to make our choice regarding application to a magnet school. At the top of our list for magnets is the Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet, which (a) has the highest AP exam pass rate in LAUSD for the second consecutive year, (b) allows its students to take classes in the co-located Mathematics and Medical magnets, and (c) has an excellent performing arts program. The family had visited the Granada Hills HS M/S/T magnet earlier in the day, and had come away unimpressed (which was disappointing as Granada Hills is our residential school fallback). We already know that although Granada Hills has reasonable test scores, their theatre and performing arts program just isn’t in the same league as VNHS.

So, we went to the show last night, courtesy of comped tickets from the magnet advisor. Their facility is beautiful. The school was originally built in the 1910 timeframe, and after various earthquakes, the auditorium has been rebuilt as a professional theatre, with a full thrust stage, numerous lighting bridges, full sound system and sound mixer boards, and comfortable seating. Combine this with elaborate sets, including staircases and rotating turntables, all constructed by the students… and right away there was “tech envy”.

The show, “A Flea In Her Ear” is a true old-fashioned sex farce, written by Georges Feydeau. Samuel French summarizes the plot as “Raymonde suspects her husband, Victor Emmanuel, of infidelity and she turns to her best friend, Lucienne, to help her gain proof. They concoct a play-based on a perfumed letter-to trap him at the Hotel Coq d’Or in Montretout. In true Feydeau fashion the plan misfires; the plot is complicated by confused identities, revolving beds, a great many doors and the fact that the stupid hotel porter, Poche, is the exact double of Victor Emmanuel. Period: the early 1900s.” In other words, there are all the classic elements of a farce: mistaken identities, exaggerated actions, lots of craziness, and loads of slamming doors. Farces are the hardest comedies to do, as they do not depend on jokes but on exact and precise timing. You can find a good description of the plot and the characters, as well as an explanation of farces, here.

Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet did an excellent job with the piece, especially considering that the cast included a fair number of 9th graders. They had the timing and the blocking down pat, and most of the actors did an excellent job of projection. Some were clearly nervous and spoke their lines a little fast; I believe that they will slow down with more experience. More annoying were some sound and static programs that occurred in the second and third acts. But these were technical; the actors did a great job of compensating.

The cast consisted of Timothy Glick (Camille Chandebise), Mikel Bossett (Antoinette Plucheux), Cody Banks (Etienne Plucheux), Aria Pakatchi (Dr. Finache), Kaitlin Walters (Lucienne De Histangua), Julia Rachilewski (Raymonde Chandebise), Dominic Gessel (VIctor Emmanuel Chandebise/Poche), Melvin Galloway III (Romaine Tournel), John Geronilla (Carlos Homenides De Histangua), Rayna Hallett (Eugenie), Paulo Tadle (Augustin Feraillon), Patricia Ponce (Olympe), Celina Pacheco (Baptistin), and Patrick Pavia (Popoy). I was particularly impressed by Ms. Walters, Ms. Rachilewski, Mr. Gessel, and Mr. Geronilla — all of who were excellent, played their parts quite well, and spoke very clearly.

The technical credits are all students as well. Sound was by Brian Bengler and Jayson Hill, lighting by Shaunna Lucas, Michael Bizarro, and John Dizon, and stage management by Brian Monterrosa, Jonathan Rivas, and Mayra Mendoza.

We came away very very impressed with the Van Nuys Magnet. It also helped that we ran into someone we knew in the audience–the mom of a girl that nsshere went to preschool with. The older daughter of the family is in the medical magnet, and gave nothing but glowing reports of the school. Personal recommendations from someone you trust are very important in something like this.

While we’re on the subject of school musicals, I must plug “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales”, which is being performed at Nobel Middle School, at the corner of Lassen and Tampa in Northridge California, on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm. No set ticket prices; donations at the door.

Our theatre plans? Next up for us is the new musical “Ray Charles Live” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 12/1 @ 8pm (that’s tonight!); followed by a concert by legendary folk musician Tom Paxton at McCabes on 12/2 @ 7:30pm (that’s tomorrow!). Following this is the highly anticipated “The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm — tickets for this donation-supported production are available at the door. On 1/5 at 2:00pm, we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.