Once upon a midnight dreary

MHS to perform in, host regional One Act Festival

A student ensemble called the “ghoul chorus” practices movements during a rehearsal last week. MHS will host the regional One Act play festival this Saturday. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Where dwell the ghouls?

In Milton High School Theatre Company’s performance of “Poe’s Midnight Dreary” at the regional One Act Festival on Saturday, March 18 at MHS.

Written by Richard McElvain, “Midnight Dreary” uses series of short storylines inspired by the famed Edgar Allan Poe’s best-known works, including “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee” and “The Black Cat.”

Poe, played by senior Brandon Racine, deliriously recounts the major events of his life from a hospital bed as a “ghoul chorus” ensemble group acts out his inner thoughts, often centering on his youthful wife (and cousin), Virginia.

“Midnight Dreary” came as a readily bound script and marks a departure from the run of Greek and Shakespearean classics director Paul Curtiss has favored in recent years. Selecting a finished copy shortened this year’s writing phase, Curtiss said, but presented its own unique set of challenges.

“When another author writes it, you have to get their permission to make some changes,” Curtiss said, noting the playwright gave the company freedom to make slight alterations.

The hour-long show features a minimalist set and traditional 1800s costuming. To get into character, Curtiss had the student actors write journal entries in their cast personas.

“The kids have done really well with bringing this together,” Curtiss said. “It’s not necessarily the easiest show because it’s not linear.”

Senior Lavi Selvaraj plays Bertram, a maid and caretaker of the old and feeble Reginald. The elderly man, representing Poe’s adopted father, eventually drives Bertram mad, Selvaraj said.

Selvaraj’s scene is a take on Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The short story was the only Poe piece she was particularly familiar with before rehearsals began.

“The whole story is how Bertram evolves from this pristine maid to this insane person,” said Selvaraj, an MHS theater regular.

MHS junior Ashley Scott is a newcomer to the high school stage. She makes her debut playing Fortunato, a personification of Poe’s alcoholism. Scott said she was once too intimidated to join drama but decided to jump in this year.

Senior Brandon Racine rehearses for his role as Edgar Allan Poe, the titular character in this year’s One Act play at Milton High School. MHS will host this year’s regional festival on Saturday, March 18. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Scott said. “I really embraced it.”

Both Selvaraj and Scott will share the first-time experience of playing host at this year’s festival. Milton last welcomed schools to its home turf four years ago.

Students from BFA-Fairfax and St. Albans, Essex, Stowe and Lamoille Union will show off their performing prowess at MHS throughout the day Saturday. Two of the six schools will proceed to the state competition.

Last year, the troupe’s performance of “Much Ado about Nothing” earned them a spot in the statewide festival. Milton has advanced to the New England tier five times in the past seven years.

“This is how we keep drama and the one act festival alive in Vermont,” Curtiss said. “If we don’t have schools to host, it doesn’t happen.”

Student technicians are largely responsible for orchestrating Saturday’s festivities, Curtiss said, and have chosen the theme “Revolutionary Musicals.”

Taking charge of so many visitors is daunting, Selvaraj said. Still, she and her fellow actors will be more comfortable moving around a stage they know well.

“It will really give us a different perspective on the show and the festival,” Selvaraj said. “It’s going to be stressful, but I think it’s going to be worth it.”

Catch Milton High School Theatre Company’s “Poe’s Midnight Dreary” at the Vermont State Drama Festival Regionals, Saturday, March 18 at noon, Milton High School.

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