Mt. Lebanon High School production mixes it up on stage

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A buzzer sounds. Lights fade to black. The audience hears the sounds of shuffling feet. When the lights come back on, a whole new set of actors is on stage.

Welcome to "Zap!" It's a parody of a production presented by the Mt. Lebanon High School's evening and technical theatre companies. The play features short bursts of action in seven of the stage's most familiar genres.

"Zap!" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday in the Mt. Lebanon High School auditorium.

"The gentleman who wrote this did so in response to high schools usually performing very similar plays," said director Cindy Schreiner as she conducted rehearsal Monday in the high school auditorium.

"Zap!" playwright Paul Fleischman, a Newberry Medal winner for his children's books, runs with the premise that an imaginary remote control commands what's happening onstage.

"Until the plays collide," Ms. Schreiner explained. "Everything becomes a disaster, and mishaps occur."

Picture Shakespeare interspersed with Chekhov and Christie, segueing into Neil Simon and Samuel Beckett, with dashes of Tennessee Williams and Eve Ensler. All with over-the-top dialogue and mannerisms on the part of the performers.

"The whole premise is, these are actors acting this," Ms. Schreiner said.

And "Zap!" provides plenty of opportunity for acting, with a total of 28 roles spread out across the seven genres: English mystery, comedy, Russian play, performance art monologue, avant-garde play, Southern play and Shakespeare's "Richard III."

The sheer volume of roles works well for Ms. Schreiner, who has taught theater at the high school since 1979. Each student in the school's Evening Theatre Company, one of the classes she instructs, is expected to play a part.

"You can't do that with a Tennessee Williams play," she said.

The Technical Theatre Company component consists of students who are working behind the scenes, on such tasks as light, sound and scenery. Greg Kuhar, who designed the set, teaches the technical class.

Contributing costume design are Kathy Thompson and Maresa Bahr, parent volunteers who took over duties from faculty member Betty Disque when she retired three years ago. Even though their children have since graduated, the women continue to lend their talents.

"I think we're fortunate to have a really extensive costume room," said Ms. Bahr, referring to the collection that has been built from three decades or so of school productions. "We're able to go in there and pick and choose from different eras."

They still make their own costumes, too, including numerous off-the-wall outfits for last year's all-school musical, "Seussical."

"I love to sew," Ms. Thompson said. "I love to tell you what to sew," Ms. Bahr responded.

The cast members weren't in costume yet during Monday's rehearsal, but they were in character as they affected Southern drawls, Russian accents and, in the case of monologist Sarah Mickey, the self-centered sentiments of suburbia.

The musical accompaniment was in place, too. In keeping with the remote-control premise, excerpts from TV-show themes from "Dragnet" to "The Partridge Family" echoed sporadically.

"For this one, I had to pick music that works for the genres and also is familiar to the audience," Ms. Schreiner said.

Such familiarity may escape many of those on stage, who were born in the mid- to late 1990s.

"They don't even know," she said.

Tickets are $7 at the door or at www.mtlsd.org. Details: 412-344-2030.

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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