PHOEBE KALLAHER/ SAGAMORE STAFF
From ranting about all the reasons to hate doors to an impromptu country song about skater boys, girls and people, the dual performance of Needs Improvment and the Brookline Education Theatre Company (BETCo) was both hilarious and captivating.
In their first show of the year, Needs Improvment and BETCo performed a combination of lighthearted-comedic and deep, thought-provoking scenes to engage and entertain an enthusiastic audience on the night of Friday, Nov.16.
Needs Improvment played a variety of different games which required wit and focus. For each, drama teacher Mark VanDerzee opened up the floor to suggestions from the audience.
In their first scene, senior Caitriona Donahue left the auditorium while the audience provided possible reasons for her to be late to work. “Her dog’s birthday party” was ultimately chosen with “a piggyback ride from Anthony Meyer” as the way in which she eventually arrived at work. Donahue returned and had to explain her reason for being late to senior Summer Barnes through gestures and hints from seniors Naomi Michelson and Devasha Solomon. Michelson and Solomon were quite clever in their miming of a dog’s birthday, using actions such as blowing out candles and walking a dog. They showed impressive problem-solving skills as they clarified each specific aspect of Donahue’s morning and found different ways to express each idea, such as repeatedly mentioning “Anthony” in conversation with Barnes and using his name in an intercom announcement.
Their remarkable ability to think quickly was further apparent in a scene between senior Alyssa Parkhurst and junior Noam Scully. Set at “midnight at IHOP,” Scully nervously anticipated an “incident tomorrow” while Parkhurst encouraged him to just “eat some pancakes.” Senior Zach Lowenstein played the role of “dinger” in this scene, saying “ding” every time either character said something he disagreed with. As such, Parkhurst and Scully had to quickly think of a new line whenever he rejected their previous statement. Despite the scene only having two people, they were able to keep up the pace and continue to deliver witty lines that ultimately lead to Scully threatening to break up with Parkhurst before the two ended the scene by leaving to go sit in their car.
BETCo followed with a very different tone. Their show was comprised of a series of short scenes focusing on stress and the impact it has on people’s lives.
The show opened with senior Isidora Savic and junior Clay Baker-Lerner inviting the audience to join the high school’s Stress Club, where students can bond with others over the stress they experience every day as a result of school.
In a later scene, set before the start of class, two students, played by junior Sylvia O’Shea and sophomore Kenny Sepulveda, discussed their ridiculous workloads. The pitiful amount of sleep they were able to get as a result of all their Advanced Placement (AP) classes made the scene especially funny in how relatable it was to so many teenage audience members. I found that it closely resembled many conversations I have heard between students.
The BETCo class also made sure to acknowledge the stress adults experience as well. Senior Masha Kazantsev portrayed a vlogger mom who talked about her concerns for her children and whether or not she’s involved enough in their lives. She explained how she doesn’t care about the ridicule she receives for being a “soccer mom,” a “white girl” and vegan, yet in her tone it was clear she still felt the unkind intent behind these words.
Next, through a cleverly staged dance and a sci-fi-esque scene between two doctors, the members of the BETCo class were able to clearly convey the idea that stress is a virus that spreads from person to person. People spread the culture of stress through their individual desires to have it the worst off and through the social norm that if you are not stressed something is wrong.
From models pressured to lose weight to members of a stress support group stressed about remaining stress-free, BETCo succeeded in examining the idea of stress in a way that was accessible and truly thought-provoking to a diverse audience of students and parents. Needs Improvment was hilarious and incredibly skillful in their scene work, and the two classes combined created the perfect balance of meaningful, comedic and highly entertaining theatre.