Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen
Theatre: Northern Light
Directed by: trevor Schmidt
Starring: Randen Martin
Where: Varscona theatre, 10329 83rd ave.
Tickets: at the door, 780-471-1586, or tix on the Square (780-420-1757)
Melanie Piatocha had an appointment before rehearsal. With her curling iron.
When you're catapulted back into high school, as "the third most popular sophomore," you need bounce. You also need pink. Which, judging by the extremely rose-coloured jacket and the Creamsicle-hued shoes on display in her dressing room, is exactly what director/designer Trevor Schmidt has provided the blond and beautiful star of Victoria Martin:Math Team Queen, launching the Northern Light Theatre season tonight.
Ah yes, and when you're the only girl, grins Piatocha, "you get your own dressing room." The four math geeks whose brainiac world Victoria Martin reluctantly invades, to avoid detention, are sharing, next door.
Actually, Piatocha is 24.And when rehearsals are finished, she rushes away to bridal fittings and bachelorette parties in honour of her impending nuptials. But you'd never know she wasn't en route to biology class or a meeting of the prom committee. "Look at her! Cute as a button!" says Schmidt affectionately. He remembered Piatocha, then 15, from The Oedipus Project, a deconstruction by Schmidt's predecessor at Northern Light of the Greek tragedy, with Japanese Buto masks and a lot of TV screens.
Piatocha was at Victoria High School, the performing arts school, at the time; then she went on to major roles at Grant MacEwan College, where people eat, drink, sleep dream musical theatre. Victoria Martin, by Kathryn Walat, is the first time in ages Piatocha hasn't been wearing those single-strap musical theatre pumps, singing and dancing.
Victoria Martin, which got its New York premiere in 2007, seems worlds away from the startling and/ or bleak violence, sex, nudity and general grittiness of the theatrical offerings in which Northern Light, under Schmidt, has immersed us in the course of his seven seasons. "True, no one brings a gun," admits Schmidt. "No one gets date-raped. Or even bullied....These are well brought-up young people."
But then, who ever said high school was sunshine and light?There's got to be a reason so many horror flicks are set in those institutions. If you enjoyed the experience, Schmidt has two words for you. "You're lying." Or, barring that, "you peaked too soon, you're a loser, and you're screwed."
A brief anecdotal survey of the crew, in various locations at the Varscona Theatre, is greeted with winces and grimaces. "Awful," declares the beauteous stage manager Gina Moe of her high-school years. "I was a total nerd." Sound designer Darrin Hagen, who's been consulting Schmidt's young cast for musical choices, looks appalled at the memory, then sheepish. "Brutal. Oooo, I was such a nerd." As we know from Hagen's own plays, being gay wasn't exactly a recipe for hipness in Rocky Mountain House.
Piatocha's own high school years can hardly be considered typical, since she went to a school where the drama kids were elite, not social outcasts. "The drama kids were the kids on student council. And also on the math team... . " Still, "I was practical, and always getting told I'm very mature for my age," she grins --not exactly words to take to the bank when you're in high school. Schmidt rolls his eyes. "Like getting told you're boring."
Schmidt, who grew up in Calgary, didn't fit in either. "True, I was popular within the drama group....We ate lunch in the theatre, not the cafeteria. That would have been social suicide."
For Schmidt, the attraction of Victoria Martin is the way the comic surfaces of the piece conceal other, darker layers. "It could be played shallow, silly and clueless. Like Clueless, in fact, or Legally Blonde. But I think there's a lot of pain these characters.... I wanted Melanie because she's so emotionally accessible as an actor. I needed her to anchor the whole show, as the central character and the catalyst."
Piatocha herself thinks of Victoria as "typical teenager, who fits herself into her world; she's secured her place in the high-school universe." When this gum-snapper gets forced onto the math team, suddenly her popularity isn't such an asset, in a milieu of geeks who are smart, "and figure that's more important."
Can Victoria and the boys rise to the challenges posed by each other? Victoria may be disconcerted, but she doesn't retreat.
"There's all kind of depth there," says Piatocha, whose ability to chew gum and act, simultaneously, has never been in question. Victoria gives her something substantial to work with: "her connection to her dad, who's left, her desperate seeking for approval, reaching out for someone who isn't even there.... There's something really truthful about the play. All the characters have a clean, beautiful arch in the course of it."
The trick, says Schmidt, who's getting a huge kick out of cast (even though "I normally hate working with young people"), is that "it's all life-and-death stuff for the characters."
The actors, he says, "have to commit to it without judging; otherwise it isn't funny....We have to honour the truth of that. It's a sweet play about nice kids trying to navigate their way."
The fact that they don't have the vocabulary that experience brings is part of the fun. "Like, I just want it to be (pause, pause, think, think), awesome."
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