By Lindsay Whelchel
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The wooden framework for the setting of a small town sits illuminated on stage like a skeleton. At first stark and rather haunting in appearance, the bare bones of material quickly turns to possibility, when the drama students of Norman North High School spill out onto the set.
Their excitement and pride permeates the air at their first sighting of the finished set where they will soon perform the play they’ve been working on for weeks.
The production, “The Rimers of Eldritch,” set in the small Midwestern town of Eldritch in the late 1960s, is a whodunit with twists, turns and varying accounts from the townspeople. But it’s also a learning opportunity for the student actors, explained Jim Ryan, director.
Ryan said that the script — which was avant-garde at the time it was written by famed Lanford Wilson in 1966 — jumps wildly in sequence and tells a crime story through shifts in time, flashbacks and forwards.
The students have had to learn how to carry the weight of such a different story structure, said Ryan, drama and debate teacher at Norman North.
“We’re pretty focused on what it is that we’re doing and it’s quite a challenge with young actors where the story telling technique is not traditional to do something like this,” he said. “There’s been a lot of work that they have had to do in analyzing what to do, and what they say, in order to be able to even kind of know where they are in time and space, which changes from line to line sometimes.”
But he said the hard work pays off with this script.
Because it is an ensemble piece, the production is perfect for allowing all of the students to soak up the limelight, he said.
It is a script that holds true to the old adage that, ‘there are no small parts,’ which is why this play was chosen for the group to perform.
“The reason I was attracted to it was the fact that there were lots of really good roles for a number of actors, and they all get to be on stage for a great amount of time,” Ryan said. “Nobody has a little part where they carry on a spear and say two words and walk off.”
Ryan described the story as an, “interesting journey” and explained that each of the characters has secrets. They all have a different story they are set on telling.
“In every small community like that pretty much everybody knows exactly what happened but there’s an official story that everyone is committed to maintaining as the truth, and so they go about the business of sort of white washing the truth as to what actually happened,” he said.
Ryan said the play is not intended for young children but that an older audience will likely enjoy the challenge of following the story and figuring out the truth.
“The story requires you to be on your toes. It’s not an easy story, but if they want to see young people on the verge of adulthood grappling with really serious questions of honor and honesty, decency, how it is to try to live in a community with other people, and what it takes just to tell the truth when everybody around you wants to believe in a lie, it would be an exciting thing to come see,” he said.
These deeper lessons are not lost on the student actors.
Nicholette Inocente, junior at Norman North, plays the town gossip, Wilma Atkins, and said the role has impacted her.
“I learned that there’s really no reward for being a gossip. To be an honest person, everything works out better that way,” she said. “There’s a lot of ‘he said, she said’ in this play, and it just makes everything worse. So I take that to heart.”
Jake Marsh, fellow junior and assistant to the director, said he has learned through the characters that things are not always what they seem. Also, from real life, he’s learning how to work hard and then see the effort come to fruition.
“I get to see it every day, see it improve, like having a child almost, how they grow up and flourish into something beautiful, which hopefully it turns out to be,” he said.
Norman North senior Josh Poteet plays the town voice of reason, Peck Johnson. Poteet acknowledged the difficulties of learning lines and memorizing stage blocking, but he is confident in the benefits of such an experience.
“I think it’s worth it all in the end,” he said. “Coming out of high school, math and science is pounded so hard into our brains, that the liberal arts can play a huge role in developing you as a human being in general, as a productive member of society.”
And Poteet said the audience will reap benefits, as well.
“They’re going to get a great show,” he said. “It’s going to make them think. It’s just an overall great performance from a bunch of talented kids.”
And that’s the truth.