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The Play That Almost Wasn’t

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Michael Hardenberg, Alex Karpinski and Megan Smillie
Michael Hardenberg, Alex Karpinski and Megan Smillie

It’s imbedded in theater culture that dramatic productions are particularly prone to dramatic calamities. This weekend’s high school production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” took the theater jinx to a new level, plagued as it was  in the weeks beforehand by a Job-like series of unfortunate events, including a fire at the director’s house the week before Christmas, the absence of the high school drama teacher, and Snoopy’s (senior Megan Smillie’s) serious knee injury just days before the show’s opening. But when the curtain rose on Friday night, the jubilant, polished production showed no signs of these stresses, proving another theater truism: The show must go on!

What makes the achievement even more remarkable is that the winter show is the one performance each year that is completely student-run, from the director, VHS senior Kevin Ohlweiler, down to the musicians in the orchestra pit.  So when Ohlweiler’s home on Kenwood Avenue suffered a major house fire, parents in the Spotlight Players Parents Association, an advisory group, were extremely concerned, both about the family’s well-being and the future of the play. Yet Ohlweiler, whose family had to move to a hotel and whose home will have to be gutted, was nonplussed. “Kevin was remarkably calm and mature,” says Beth Smillie, head of the SPPA. “He just rolled with it. He didn’t cancel a single rehearsal, not even on the day of the fire.”

To put even more pressure on the young director, the high school drama teacher had to take a longer maternity leave than expected, so there was no staff member to provide a support role. Though a parent was always at practice to supervise,  producing the play was completely up to the students.  “There was no adult voice,” says Smillie. “Creative-wise, it was the kids, one-hundred-percent.”

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Then, one week before the show, Megan Smillie was dancing at a New Year’s Eve party when her knee gave out and pain set in, big-time. Several visits to the doctor, squeezed in around and sometimes during practices, revealed a problem with the knee cap that will require surgery to repair. Meanwhile, the knee must be immobilized with a brace. At the weekend performances, Snoopy still had the trademark spring in his step–dancing, running around, even hopping on and off his doghouse. And in her robust alto with a vampy style, Smillie nailed the exuberant number “Suppertime!” No one would have guessed there was a clunky knee brace under her dog costume, or pain underlying her joyful movements and demeanor. Beth Smillie admits to only one moment of panic, in a scene where her daughter was required to race back and forth across the stage. “I was thinking, ‘If she trips and falls right now, oh no…’ ” But the show was without mishap, perhaps proving yet another theater aphorism:  “Break A Leg” means  “Good Luck.”

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Julia Martin Langan
Julia Martin Langanhttps://myveronanj.com
Julia Martin Langan moved to Verona in 1989. A long-time journalist, she has been on the staff of Money, Sports Illustrated, Bride’s and Redbook magazines. Her articles on health and parenting appear in a variety of national publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Parents, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Self and Family Circle. She and her husband Greg have three school-aged children, and are members of Our Lady of the Lake Church. You can reach Julia at [email protected]

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