An evening of short plays at OVUHS showcases student creations


“WIZARDS TO FALKUM,” written & directed by Chloe Derepentigny and Dillon Ladd. In this clever piece, a group of friends play Dungeons & Dragons and the game comes to life for the audience. Photos by Mitchell Pearl

This past weekend saw the annual presentation of short plays (also known as “The One-Acts”) at Otter Valley.  Jeffrey Hull, Otter Valley’s theatre director, started these productions 25 years ago to let students learn the art of directing.  Over the years, Otter Valley’s Walking Stick Theatre group has presented a program of short plays directed by, and often written by, the students.  While the program has always had student-written plays, this is the fourth year that the student directors all wrote their own plays.  This started during the pandemic, since the actors had to be distanced from each other and only a small number of actors could be in each play.  Seeing the student-written plays provides a good reflection of the students’ worldviews, their interests, and what they find entertaining.  

The only play presented that was not written by a student was the last play, which is the festival piece to be presented at Vermont’s regional drama festival.  The last play of the evening is always a short play by a published author and directed by theatre director Jeff Hull.  

The first play of the evening, “Wizards to Falkum,” was written and directed by students Chloe Derepentigny and Dillon Ladd.  This was a funny and energetic play with an innovative concept.  There was one group of actors literally at audience level playing Dungeons and Dragons while their role-playing game went on above them on the stage.  On stage, the superbly costumed characters—including a “mud monster” and a wizard—played out the game, while the players, down below, aired their own disagreements and “mom” brought them snacks.  

“FORMIDABLE FUNERAL,” WRITTEN & directed by Bryce Connaughton and Nate Gaissert: a whodunit in which the lead actress (Roni O’Brien) had the thespian’s delight of dying on stage 15 times.

The second play, “Tales of a Dojo,” was written and directed by Jaylee MacJarrett.  The characters’ “real life” struggles found resolution through a martial-arts competition involving a great “slow-mo” simulated fight.  The lighting and sound were particularly well done, with fitting—and comedic—use of music to support the drama. 

The third play, “Battle of the Bands,” was written and directed by Dani Polli and Alyssa Raymond. This was both a funny tribute to and critique of the culture of making every event into a contest.  The ending was adorable, with the contest’s announcer finding her xylophone so she could join one of the bands.  The young concert attendees were hilarious.  

The next play, entitled “The Best Thieves in Paris,” was written and directed by Sally O’Brien.  Effective use of costume and visuals evoked the feeling of being in Paris, outside the Louvre art museum.  A group of comic and ineffectual guards can’t seem to prevent the museum’s most famous artwork—including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and DaVinci’s Mona Lisa—from being stolen by a similarly comic and ineffectual set of thieves.  This was a madcap play featuring intriguing comic interludes between scenes and a surprise ending. 

The last student play of the evening was “Formidable Funeral,” written and directed by Bryce Connaughton and Nate Gaissert.  Rival family members each accuse the others of murdering the deceased, “Patty,” leading to a series of flashbacks showing how Patty might have died.  Roni O’Brien, who played “Patty,” had an actress’s dream role, as she got to die about 15 times during the play.  Each death was different, dramatic, and well-played.  Oliver Lavette, who played Doc, also stood out using his skill with a puppet.  

The final play of the evening, as always, is the festival piece, directed by OV’s theatre director Jeffrey Hull.  This year, the ensemble presented “Sea Change,” written by Alan Haehnel.  Haehnel is a Vermonter who has written and published over 120 plays that have been produced around the world.  “Sea Change” features two main characters—a youth who has dropped out of school and her mental-health professional—and also an ensemble of players that takes on many individual and collective roles as the play progresses.  

“SEA CHANGE,” WRITTEN by Alan Haehnel and directed by OV theater director Jeff Hull. The play chronicles the psychological journey of a youth, played by Dani Polli, as she comes to terms with the experiences that have affected her mental health. The play will be performed by OV at the theater festival this weekend at Mill River.

Dani Polli, who played the youth, and Alyssa Raymond, who played her therapist, ably tackled very difficult roles.  The youth’s role was particularly challenging, as she was shown re-imagining and re-living the past experiences that had brought her to the day.  But the real “star” of the show was the ensemble.  Different members of the ensemble slipped in and out of various roles, sometimes individually, sometimes in groups, and sometimes forming visual images.  One particularly poignant moment had the ensemble reenacting the breakup of the youth’s parents.  At the end of the play, the ensemble became the sea.  

Otter Valley’s festival piece will be shown this coming weekend at the regional drama festival, held this year at Mill River Union High School.  “Sea Change” will be performed on Saturday, March 16, at 6:30.  The regional festivals offer the opportunity for OV’s students to meet like-minded students from other schools, see their productions, and compete for a chance to go on to larger festivals.  In some years, Otter Valley’s Walking Stick Theatre has gone on to perform at the Vermont State Drama Festival and at the New England Festival. They have also participated with the American High School Theatre festival at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

If you missed the plays last weekend, there is another chance to see “Sea Change” this Saturday at Mill River.  

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