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The Martha's Vineyard Times

"Haunting" at Charter School

By Mary-Jean Miner
Published: March 26, 2009

There is something about watching students work out the logistics of a play they will be performing that is intriguing - especially when they are Island students. If one didn't know better, it would seem that they all have an inborn sense of theater protocol.

But Islanders know that many Island students have a variety of experiences in theater from very early ages on and it becomes contagious to others who are working on productions for the first time. The result, as demonstrated at a recent rehearsal at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School this week, is a serious and professional-style approach to the tasks.

Both the actors and production staff at the Charter School, were working out cues and sound effects, as well as performing for the first time in bits and pieces of costume, which were still being made backstage, and it was fascinating to watch.

Everyone gave their total attention, even when the technical equipment didn't produce a thunderclap on time. They mastered silence, and waiting, waiting, waiting.

The play, "The Haunting of Will Shakespeare," which will be performed at the Vineyard Playhouse, provides challenges on many levels. The writer, Claudia Haas, begins with the premise that William Shakespeare had never intended to write plays; rather he aspired to be an actor.

During a dance sequence that is being worked out, there are familiar lines - "The play's the thing" - and some not so familiar - "The play's not been written; it is up to you."

Under the direction of Treather Gassmann, the parts are well cast, and the players really seem to understand their characters. One witch, Graymalkin, played by Kristine Hopkins, summons up a clap of thunder, then makes plans to cast a spell on young Shakespeare played by Eli Berlow. She and her entertainingly weird sisters, Caley Bennett and Lily Lubin, are the organizers of the haunting.

And thereby hangs the tale.

The three witches and many spirits of the various characters are waiting to be "written." They all hover, coming and going while they wait to become characters in Shakespearean plays. All the while, Will Shakespeare, proves to be a rather reluctant participant in their plans, consistently managing to miss the point.

The production, much of it done by students, is well done on many fronts, but the costuming, which is usually just listed as part of production, deserves special note. Nearly all of the complicated and impressive Shakespearean costumes were designed by 16-year-old Rose Maidoff, and stitched and sewn by her and another young student, Chelsie Phanuf. The results are wonderful. The two were still at work during the rehearsal, making adjustments to allow for better movement, or changing things so the actors did not have to be conscious of what they wore.

It is certainly worth a trip to the Vineyard Playhouse this weekend to see the talented students interpret this imaginative twist on history.

"The Haunting of Will Shakespeare," Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven, Friday, March 27, 7 pm, and Saturday, March 28, 2 pm matinee, and 7 pm. Tickets: families, $20; adults, $6; children 12 and under, $4. 508-693-9900.

Mary-Jean Miner is a freelance writer living in Tisbury.