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James Madison High School Dandelion Wine

By • Nov 15th, 2010 • Category: Cappies

In the midst of all the excitement and joy that accompanies the long anticipated arrival of summer, it is hard for children to picture that “real life” might intrude upon their holiday. One just wants to say “red light” and hope to stay young and oblivious to the possibility of pain and loss forever. James Madison High School’s production of Dandelion Wine grapples with this desire and with the painful lesson of learning to let go of people and childhood.

Dandelion Wine–adapted in 1988 from a semi-autobiographical novel written by Ray Bradbury–tells the tale of the young Douglas Spaulding, who lives in the quaint village of Green Town, Illinois during the summer of 1928. Douglas is convinced that his life, his summer, his relationships will never end. A light and cheery feeling is conveyed during the first act–when Douglas believes that nothing will change–until a tarot witch predicts the young boy’s ultimate misery. By the second act, Douglas is forced to come to terms with the fact that nothing on this earth is eternal.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of Madison’s performance was that there was no moment that an actor wasn’t in character. Whether playing a lead character or the part of a tennis shoe girl, each cast member was completely transformed into their role. During the play’s climax–George’s nightmare–each performer sent chills down the audience’s backs with dead stares and uniform shoulder rolling.

As a 12 year old, Douglas Spaulding is at the end of his “tween” years: he has reached an age where humans move out of childhood. Although he physically looked older, Daxx Wieser became a 12 year old through his cheerful voice, his energetic movements, and his proud posture. Although the character was usually full of joy and excitement, there were many dramatic scenes that called for a darker Douglas. Wieser took on these scenes with ease, never resorting to the “screeching” that plagues some actors during similar scenes.

Julia Meadows also played the role of the mechanical tarot witch with astonishing reality. When brought on stage, her stiff posture and blank stare seemed eerily automotronic. Not until the witch started speaking did the audience realize that there was an actress inside the tarot machine. Meadows sent shivers through the audience with her high pitched voice, and her robotic jerks and gestures added to the believability of her role. Behind the tarot witch was her inventor, Leo Hauffman, played by JD Brady. With his flashy gestures and loud cackling, Brady had the audience laughing all night.

The professional quality of the set, props, and costumes enhanced the overall presentation of the show. As the audience members walked into the auditorium, they were instantly impressed by the house that had been built on stage, and their amazement increased as the night progressed. From the bright, detailed penny arcade to the cellar with functional stairs, the sets helped transmit the audience to the world of Douglas Spaulding. Likewise, the costumes accurately portrayed the era of the 1920s. Be it the old man’s plaid baggy jacket to keep him warm or the young boy’s overalls, each costume was exquisite and suited the character’s age and personality.

Dandelion Wine ends on a bittersweet note. Not a word was muttered in the auditorium during the emotional final scene, when Douglas must let go of old friends. As Douglas told the sun to set, a somber feeling could be sensed throughout the auditorium. It was time for the audience to say goodbye to Douglas and the show, but not without giving the cast a standing ovation for their spectacular performance.

by Teddy Dean of McLean

Photo Gallery

John Huff (Chris Liu), middle: Douglas Spaulding (Daxx Wieser), right: Tom Spaulding (Ryan Elci) Douglas Spaulding
John Huff (Chris Liu), middle: Douglas Spaulding (Daxx Wieser), right: Tom Spaulding (Ryan Elci)
Douglas Spaulding
Ann Barclay (Katie Somers), Douglas Spaulding (Daxx Wieser) Douglas Spaulding (Daxx Wieser)
Ann Barclay (Katie Somers), Douglas Spaulding (Daxx Wieser)
Douglas Spaulding (Daxx Wieser)

Photos provided by James Madison High School.

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