Review: State Festival Play



Anna Dong/Sagamore Staff

The State Festival Play, Apollo-G, is set in Hollywood in 2019. The play was entirely written by the cast and directed by Mary Mastandrea and Mark VanDerzee.

Anna Dong, Staff Writer

As the slick, silvery voice of an 89.9 radio announcer fills the air of a gray-cushioned van, Ally Graham, an irritated teenage girl, sits with her legs crossed beside her mother at the wheel. They are on the way to see her grandpa, and she would rather do anything than spend the summer in his presence.

While their bond starts off on a rocky note, Ally (senior Emily Gerson) and her grandpa, Gary Shepard (senior Max Murphy), soon develop an unfading connection after he unveils a secret he had kept for 50 years.

Set in Hollywood, California in 2019, Apollo-G, a cast-written play directed by Mary Mastandrea and Mark VanDerzee, depicts the transformation of a family dynamic through candor, bringing to light the importance of family trust and communication.

Although the story begins in a van, the audience is soon transported to Mr. Shepard’s grand residence, complete with windows bordered with velvet curtains and a well-mannered butler named Edward Brewster (freshman Jake Zucker). Zucker highlights the comedic aspects of the show through the solemnity with which he fulfills his duties as the butler.

In contrast to Edward, Mr. Shepard dons a more casual outfit with a fluffy burgundy robe and plaid pajama pants. This captures the humorous reality of his everyday life, one that often consists of chatting with his neighbor, Lenny Horowitz (sophomore Simon Grossman), a scenic-designer-turned-beekeeper.

Hobbling around with gruff, unpredictable speech, Murphy encapsulates the image of a stereotypical grandpa. In the attic, however, when he shows Ally the old props from his time as a film editor, Murphy reveals the vivacious side of Mr. Shepard as he launches into a passionate back-and-forth rendition of movie lines with Gerson.

Upon reading a strange invitation from NASA to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Ally immediately starts questioning her grandpa. Gerson makes each remark more urgent and forceful as she waves her arms in disbelief.

Putting the clues together, Ally points out the abundance of Russian food in the household and her grandpa’s suspicious reaction regarding an astronaut helmet in the attic, ultimately accusing him of being a Russian spy working for NASA.

Prompted by these harsh accusations, Mr. Shepard begins telling the story of how his 50-year-old secret came to be. In the eyes of the audience, this story is told through a flashback to 1969, when Mr. Shepard was a fully functioning film editor.

As the set transforms to include now outdated telephones and filming equipment, the flashback also introduces new characters, such as the panicked NASA operators (sophomore Renata Shen and senior Nick Sturman). On the phone with Mr. Shepard’s secretary, they plead for a recreation of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Though utterly reluctant, Mr. Shepard agrees to develop manufactured footage, and he hastily gathers his crew at the studio to prepare for filming, including Lenny Horowitz, his scenic designer. Weaving in the show’s characteristic humor, Grossman remarks about the tight fit of the astronaut uniform, as his character is to portray the Apollo 11 pilot Buzz Aldrin, despite the gravity of the situation.

With a live projection of the black and white footage in the background, Lenny enters the shot, looking like a true astronaut with his American flag in hand and simulating hops as if he had truly made it to the moon.

Returning back to 2019, the spotlight shines on the van once again, but this time on a content teenage girl in an electric red dress, who smiles at her grandpa, outfitted in a clean-cut suit and tie, as they make their way to the NASA anniversary celebration. A sudden transformation, this new attire symbolizes the journey of a granddaughter and her grandpa as they come to terms with the secret and cross the divide that had kept them separated for so long before.

With a superb storyline, the show incorporates elements of modern-day society, most notably through the addition of a crazed Lyft driver (senior Romy Meehan) who takes Ally and her grandpa to the NASA event. Meehan delivers a compelling performance with outward movements and humorous comments about the existence of Bigfoot, which also taps into the various allusions evident throughout the performance.

In terms of humor, the cast and crew did a phenomenal job in their execution of the play. It is through this comedic lens that Apollo-G evokes lighthearted, yet truthful reflections on one’s presumptions about others and encourages a unity achieved through communication.