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'Locker' dark plot takes twists and turns

The Thespians of Claremont High School are ready to talk with their production of “The Locker Next 2 Mine” addressing the topic of suicide and mourning.

Playwright, Jonathan Dorf’s play gives the perspective of high school students when it comes to moving on after a death. Mr. Dorf has written over 50 plays that include pieces such asThank You for Flushing My Head in the Toilet and other rarely used expressions” and “Harry’s Hotter at Twilight.”

“As far as heavy hitting scripts, [the students] have done a couple things that deal with adult issues,” Claremont High School Theater Teacher, Krista Elhai said. “It is really hard to find a script that deals with teen issues with a voice.”

Ms. Elhai and Mr. Dorf have known each other for about 10 years through the California State Thespians and have wanted to work together for a long time. After students suggested the script and were so adamant about doing the performance, Ms. Elhai reached out to her friend for the rights and began work on the project.

Washington High School students have a “Pluto problem.” Something very important happened and now the adults want them to just forget about it. The story follows Alisa at a new school trying to reach her locker. She can barely see her locker door because it is squished in next to a huge shrine to Beth Turner, a student who died in an accident the year before. The “M Squad” continues to pressure the school into publicly mourning, including the newbie Alisa. However, while everyone talks about the accident that took Beth, the students also seems to whisper about another death that took place around the same time.

Alisa is left on her own as she tries to find out what happened, while at the same time not alienating her classmates. She feels less alone when a former school reporter named Brady, tells her of the suicide that happened on campus. Together they try and bring the second death to light so their peers can start to heal.

Mr. Dorf originally came up with the play after visiting a school in the Mojave Desert that was producing another of his plays. During rehearsals strong feelings in the cast surfaced because of a suicide of a student. Around the same time another classmate died in an accident. Mr. Dorf noticed how commercialized the accidental death had become throughout the school with T-shirts and posters being made in the students honor, but no one discussed the suicide. It really said something about how people handle death, Mr. Dorf noted.

“The students were never really allowed to address the suicide,” Mr. Dorf said. “That was the nugget of the play I took that as the starting point.”

A few months later a Long Island high school commissioned him for a play. The school gave no specifics, just requested that the piece be dramatic, 90-minutes long and required a cast of about 30. Sadly, after the script was completed the school was unable to do the play because the material was too close to their own experiences. Since its creation, the piece has been performed at a high school in Alabama, part of South Africa and as a one-act around various campuses in the US.

The performance is unique in the fact that visual representation is also used to tell the story. To build on the theme of comfort being out of reach, adults and emotionally closed off authority figures wear masks to represent how hard it is for students to open up about how they feel.

Also, the set is minimal. The most noticeable object is a heavily decorated shrine that is covered in real pieces that the cast members brought from home. Each person thought of something their character would bring and either bought or made something for Beth’s shrine.

The CHS students have also constructed a set that uses angles to its advantage. Besides stairs to access a lifted platform, no surface on the stage is level.

“We played with the angles like crazy in tech,” Ms. Elhai said.

As the students discussed the piece in class and found reoccurring themes, the set slowly took shape to bring the words on the page into a physical representation.

Student directors Deja Cannon and Noelle Davis have been working closely with their peers to ensure that their first production hits home.

“The play is really relatable to high school and people our age. You get to hear how different people will cope with different kinds of deaths,” Noelle said. “There are some light moments, but a lot of heartfelt moments overall.”

The two directors both enjoyed the piece on their first reading. They saw an opportunity to open their classmates and parents’ eyes to how coping is different for teens while adults might assume mourning is too painful to be addressed.

“The audience should be prepared to come in, not in a dark mood, but with an open mind because different people have a different way they cope” Deja said. “Everyone should be prepared for post-traumatic stress from some characters, while some are colder. The audience needs to understand how other people take things might not match how they take things.”

During rehearsals, students were reminded to really think about their lines and what they mean. It was important for them to not just portray the character, but also understand what the character might be going through as they said that first line.

“Depending on if you are an adult or student, you’ll take away something different,” Ms. Elhai said. “Around students we need to discuss things, they need to talk about it and work through things, just like adults.”

Mr. Dorf is excited to see the CHS rendition of his work. This will be the second time he has ever seen the full-length play performed since its premiere. With the CHS Theater’s strong reputation, he is confident in the production.

“It is always fun to see my work come together and done well,” Mr. Dorf said.

The performance will be at the Don F. Fruechte Theater at 1601 N. Indian Hill Blvd. on the CHS campus. The play starts at 7:30p.m. and runs on Thursday, Jan. 16, Friday Jan. 17 and Saturday Jan. 18. Tickets are $9 for presale and $10 at the door. Call (909) 624-9053 ext. 30463 or visit chstheatre.cusd.claremont.edu for more information.

—Christina Collins Burton

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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