Each semester, students in the Academy Theatre Performance class begin by reading numerous plays and deciding which one to perform for the public as the culmination of their course work.
There’s usually quite a debate as the students lobby for their favorites, said Paul Palmore, the director of Punahou’s K – 12 theatre program, who teaches the course. But this fall, the students settled on “Mother Hicks” after only two class days, drawn in by the story of the search for identity and the rejection of labels that others impose.
“That message resonates, especially with young people. They can relate to it, no matter the era or the setting,” said Palmore, who directed the cast of nine Academy students in powerful performances on December 1 and 9 at Dillingham Hall’s Drama Workshop.
The play by Suzan Zeder, published in 1986, is based on folklore collected during the 1930s by the Federal Writers’ Project. Set in the small town of Ware, Ill., during the Great Depression, the haunting tale uses sign language, poetry and dialogue to tell a story about what can happen when fear overcomes reason, and about the courage required to be true to yourself. The story centers around three people living in society’s margins: a homeless orphan known only as Girl (Megan ’14); Tuc (Aaron ’13), a deaf young man who looks out for Girl in his own way; and the mysterious title character (Lea ’13). Mother Hicks is a witch, people say. But people can be wrong, and cruel, especially when times are hard and they are looking for someone to blame.
In 1935, times are hard for everybody, especially for Girl, who shuffles from family to family, inevitably wearing out her welcome. While the rest of the townsfolk are terrified of Mother Hicks, blaming her “spells” for every ill that befalls them, Girl is intrigued by the eccentric woman, and seeks her out on a dare. The healing bond that develops among Mother Hicks, Girl and Tuc brings care and hope to all three.
“ ‘Mother Hicks’ recounts the difficult journey we all make in life, the journey to discover who we really are,” said Palmore. “I am proud of this cast, who delivered some truly powerful moments on stage.”
The public performances were the culmination of a semester’s worth of reading, research and rehearsal designed to challenge the cast, who had advanced to Theatre Performance through the prerequisites Acting: Fundamentals and Acting: Character Portrayal. Besides giving students the opportunity to perform, the class allows them to help design and build the set, contribute props and ideas for staging, and become adept at group dynamics, as they rehearse together and refine their roles.
“This show challenged our class in the best way possible. We each had characters that stretched us — that’s what makes this class so wonderful,” said Lea ’13, a seasoned performer appearing in her final Theatre Performance production. “Palmore gives us the freedom and the sense of security that encourages us to experiment dramatically without being judged. I’m really proud of our cast, and I think in the end we succeeded in telling a beautiful, honest story.”