|HHS performance so funny it 'oughta be illegal'|
|Written by Jes-c Brandt|
Holyoke High School Drama Club had their audience laughing till they cried — and that’s no hyperbole. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 20-21, HHS students performed the comedy Better Football Through High School Chemistry by Murray Austin.
Director Carla Mayfield made a daring move putting up an unknown piece for her first HHS production, but the risk was definitely worth the return. This production is a comedy Holyoke’s spectators won’t soon forget.
Characters were students, faculty and supporters at Chicaloo High School, home of the fighting chickens. The football team was full of school spirit, but severely lacking in talent. Chicaloo newspaper reporters, played by Teanna Amaral and Brooke Parker, set the stage with a brief and humorous 70-year history of the Chickens’ pathetic football team.
Problems for the team were rooted in problems in the classroom, as two students, played by Molly Brandt and Rachel Schneider, so tactfully pointed out. The boys were so forgetful, the coaches threw away the playbook and ran only two plays — that is, until they had to cut that number in half because it was too much to remember.
Three star players represented the state of the entire team. Quarterback Tommy Don, played by Duncan Brandt, led the trio both on and off the field. Preston King played Chicken running back Motown, a lively wingman in the bunch. Chuck Pace, played by Ben Martinez, acted as the team’s receiver and the quiet friend.
Although the team isn’t what you’d call superstars, they live for the game. When the school’s eligibility policy threatens their season, the athletes are devastated. Tommy Don, Motown and Chuck were somehow doing great on their homework, but their teacher Ms. Kasey, played by Briar Bergner, couldn’t help but notice their poor performance on pop quizzes.
Of course there was a simple explanation for this inconsistency: the boys’ girlfriends did all their homework for them. Each player had a cheerleader girlfriend. Standing by Tommy Don’s side was Laura, played by Severine Barras. Motown’s girl was Hannah, played by Ella Stewart. Cheryl completed the cheerleading triad, as Chuck’s devoted girlfriend.
The girls were the team’s biggest fans, and had an encouraging cheer for every occasion, from football games to test taking. They were terribly distraught when the boys received news that the football season would be over if the team didn’t improve their performance in the classroom.
Perhaps most worried of all were the football coaches, played by Taylor Haidle and Brian DeBoer. The two played some of the most convincing stereotypical high school coaches the Holyoke stage has seen. They creatively filled the audience in on the invisible game unfolding before their eyes, with comments on the action, as well as their over the top physical reactions to upsetting plays.
Despite the team’s disappointing history, the coaches were confident this was the year they would be victorious. In their opinion, the boys had no other option than to get their grades up for the sake of the team.
On the day of the big Hank the Cowdog test, the players weren’t the only ones holding their breath in nervous anticipation. The cheerleaders, coaches, teachers and classmates were similarly anxious. To everyone’s surprise, the boys all passed with flying colors. But how? The Chickens’ delight was coupled with confusion when the dull-witted football studs had a sudden change in intelligence. The only explanation, it seemed, was a recent bug spray mishap.
School nerd Louis, played by Skyler Mayfield, was never a big fan of the football team. They constantly poked fun at his dorky clothes and teacher’s pet attitude, never letting him forget that they ruled the school and he was a nobody. When Louis warned the team he was about to set off a specially designed bug bomb on the field, they scoffed, football players are not afraid of a little bug spray.
In the highlight of the production, Tommy Don, Motown and Chuck performed a terrifically choreographed routine. With cans of bug spray in hand and the lights dimmed, the fun began. What started as a couple unsure sprays, grew into a full-fledged dance that had the audience laughing non-stop, until the boys fell to the floor, bug spray cans rolling away dramatically.
To the horror of the girlfriends, the boys were unresponsive when they found them. Alarm soon turned to joy, however, when the players awoke, not as their former meat-head selves, but as intelligent, insightful gentlemen.
Toxic bug spray was all it took to clear the football players’ heads and get them thinking. As their IQs rapidly grew, Tommy Don, Motown and Chuck realized how easy it was to just read their assignments. They even began doing extra work to make up for their former slacking.
Sure enough, the trio’s newfound intelligence did lead to better football. The team was no longer limited to their single play, as Tommy Don started calling the plays their coaches had long since given up on. Everyone was getting excited about the team’s success.
Chicken football was sponsored by TFC, Tennessee Fried Chicken. Between scenes, Amanda Ferguson, Skyler Mayfield and Becca Brandt played the parts of actors in TFC advertisements. The three donned their cheesy commercial personas and touted the benefits of the original recipe and extra greasy TFC chicken, now available in a new 80 piece bucket. Eat TFC, they announced, and you won’t be alone.
Before long, the Chickens were celebrating a never before seen winning streak and the possibility of their first championship. Tommy Don was creating outrageous, but brilliant trick plays left and right, and Motown and Chuck were performing them flawlessly. Their victories, however, soon went to the players’ heads.
Football is no longer a challenge, the Chickens complained. Not only were they more intelligent, their eyes were opened to a world of fine arts and current events. Even in the middle of the games, their heads were filled with thoughts of music, sketching and acting. They were constantly troubled by concerns of homelessness in America, global warming and saving humpback whales.
Running in to the huddles, the players expressed their concerns to their coaches, who, needless to say, were not pleased with where their players’ heads were at. Haidle pleaded with his team, still dreaming of making high school football history and winning coach of the year.
Duncan Brandt was the star of the huddle, when he came to his coaches with his newest dilemma. He needed to find his motivation. His most recent endeavor was that of a method actor, and he simply could not continue the game until he had found his motivation.
His ever accommodating coaches agreed to join him in some warm-up activities that consisted of mediation, visualization and interpretive dance. Haidle and DeBoer showed the extent of their skills as well, as Brandt flamboyantly pranced about and they maintained their stoic expressions.
Actors Duncan Brandt, Preston King and Ben Martinez certainly were convincing in their transformations. It was hard to believe there wasn’t some mystery potion that changed them from cocky jocks to educated citizens, as they seemed legitimately concerned with important matters of the world.
Despite bug spray poisoning, there were some things that never changed about these three football stars. They were conceited before, and they were conceited after. Only now, they had more to brag about. Constantly correcting their classmates’ grammar and criticizing their teachers and coaches, these athletes soon went from heroes to zeroes in the eyes of Chicaloo fans.
If the athletes hadn’t given up their Hank the Cowdog reading for Thoreau and his contemporaries, the next book on their schedule would have been Spiderman. Unfortunately the boys never got a chance to learn that ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ As the new school geniuses, Tommy Don and company may have all the right answers, but they can’t seem to manage the social implications of their new roles.
An energetic Nicole Brandt played the part of radio diva Jordan J. Jawbreaker. Consistently optimistic and supportive of the Chickens throughout the play, all it took was one insult from Chuck to send her off the deep end. Brandt went from bubbly to boiling in an instant, and her sentiments were matched by others the new geniuses had offended.
Cheerleaders quickly went from loving girlfriends to vindictive enemies. Barras, Stewart and Durbin channeled their creative energy to cheers that expressed their frustration, even dumping their boyfriends with a creative chant.
Ending the most important game of their careers, Tommy Don, Motown and Chuck objected to the violence of football and followed Ghandi’s lead, refusing to eat or drink until the other team gave in peacefully.
At the conclusion of the performance, the geeky Louis stepped in once again, this time with a concoction meant to stop the players’ IQs from growing any more. Another hilarious dance followed, met with uproarious laughter, and the players inhaled the spray, ending again on the ground. This time, when they came around, the athletes were back to their empty-headed selves, much to the delight of their fickle cheerleader girlfriends.
Thanks to a great director and cast, as well as Christopher Beiber, Jacinda Krueger and Shaylee Krueger on the crew, and a number of other contributors, Better Football Through High School Chemistry was a play to remember. After two acts of great verbal and physical comedy, the audience left the theater still laughing, and pondering one final twist: the side effect of the second spray was uncanny strength.