By Mark Dreisonstok
As most schools and public gatherings are closed during the coronavirus era of social distancing, what has become of the traditional school play? Wolfpack Theatre at Justice High School has hit upon a very creative solution.
Rebranding itself the “WP Radio Hour,” this troupe of young actors presented “The Secret Adversary,” a 1922 Agatha Christie mystery adapted by Tracy Wells. The play is set after the First World War, and childhood friends Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley, now in their early twenties, have formed a sort of detective agency called the Young Adventurers, Ltd. The mystery actually started on the RMS Lusitania, the doomed ocean liner famously sunk by the Germans in World War I. In the story, a document was handed over to young American Jane Finn — a treaty which will now embarrass the British government and which villainous spies are thus plotting to acquire.
The story is also rich in characterization and some humor as a romance develops gradually between Tommy and Tuppence in the course of their adventures.
In the last days of January, the cast members performed this play in two parts as an audio drama on-line, with the performers in different locations in order to preserve social distancing requirements. As an added feature, the cast performed in the style of radio dramas of yesteryear, complete with music, sound effects, narration, and dramatic pauses. Many employed the British accents for announcements they used for the “The Secret Adversary” drama proper. Period songs were included, such as a solo vocal performance of George Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” and a choral group singing “Ain’t We Got Fun,” a Tin Pan Alley favorite tune written in 1921. Radio-style adverts (written by the students) were used, plugging Falls Church businesses such as Ireland’s Four Provinces Restaurant and Dominion Camera, with one announcement for Arlington-based Encore Stage and Studio, where many Falls Church school youths also live out their passion for drama. The standout “extra feature” accompanying “The Secret Adversary” was a deftly performed version of the legendary Bud Abbott and Lou Costello comic baseball routine “Who’s on First?”
We contacted some of the Justice High School dramaturgy coterie who took part in the production.
Xander Tilock, a junior, who played two of the lead characters, Tommy Beresford and Julius Hersheimmer, told News-Press that he “Greatly enjoyed working on an online production, as it was the first of its kind in my theatre career so far. Working on two different characters was also a fun challenge.”
Tilock recently wrote and directed “A Winter Star” with Encore Stage and Studio.
“I hope to continue bringing stories to our community in these difficult times, and I was excited for audiences to enjoy this modern take on a classic,” Tilock said.
Senior Hailey Bowman served as an announcer and as a waitress named Annie. She has this to share about her experience with “The Secret Adversary”: “One of the things that I have enjoyed immensely while working on this production was getting to see all of my theater friends, old and new, work together to find a way to keep up the usual spirit of theater that we have when we can be in person.”
Finally, News-Press spoke with the production’s director and Justice’s Theatre Arts teacher, Jewel Schrader Orem, who said “I enjoyed seeing the students be able to talk to each other and spend time with each other and create with each other in these strange times. To have their theatre family back together I think was very important. I also love the creative process and how many different ideas came about because of different students’ talents and delving into the old-time radio program.”
Not only did the production of “The Secret Adversary” live up to its promise of presenting winter evenings of “Comedy, Mystery, Singing!” It also invites other schools to follow its path in preserving the tradition of the school play in the age of social distancing during a pandemic.