STONINGTON — Long before an almost-three-hour play rehearsal was scheduled to begin one evening last week, dozens of students worked backstage in the Stonington High School auditorium; others rehearsed lines onstage.
During small breaks, some students slipped in a little homework. Others pondered where to grab a quick dinner.
Stonington High’s award-winning drama department demands commitment, as senior Libby Hall knows all too well. The senior is performing in her seventh production since her freshman year — she’s the lead in the fall play, “The Curious Savage,” that opens Friday night.
For Hall and the rest of the cast and crew, the obligation goes beyond entertaining audiences.
“I grew up coming to the shows at Stonington High, my first one was when I was in elementary school,” Hall, 18, said. “There’s just something about SHS. We know it’s not just about performing for students and their families, we know that we’re reaching out to the entire community and making an impact.”
Director Erin Sousa-Stanley said that “The Curious Savage,” a warmhearted comedy by John Patrick first produced in 1950, has drawn nearly 100 cast and crew members — the largest group she’s seen in her 14 years of directing plays and musicals at the high school.
“We’re over the moon,” she said. “We’ve seen those numbers for musicals, but never for a play. I think people get involved because it’s a great place to bring people together and gives students a higher purpose and an opportunity to touch someone else’s life.”
Principal Stephen Murphy said drama has been a key element at the school since he arrived in 1995. “Student interest has never waned,” he said. “For some students being in a drama production is on their ‘bucket list’ before they graduate. Also, there is no stereotyping. You can be a football or basketball player and want to be in a production. And be accepted and praised for doing so.”
That is why the school productions leave a big impressions on audiences, Hall said. “We can appeal to a broad audience in terms of our shows because of the diversity in our own department,” said Hall, who plays the eccentric rich widow Mrs. Ethel P. Savage in “The Curious Savage.”
Sousa-Stanley said she chose “The Curious Savage” because of its message of acceptance.
Ethel, the main character, wants to use the $10 million her husband left her to help others realize their hopes and dreams.
Her stepchildren, however, have other plans for the money. In desperation, they commit her to a sanatorium, thinking she will come to her senses.
There, Savage meets an “assortment of oddball, but friendly personalities.” These individuals team up with Savage to lead her stepchildren on a “wacky chase that will eventfully bring her stepchildren to humiliation.”
“I love the message you’re going to get out of this story,” Sousa-Stanley said. “It’s a message of hope, goodness and warmth and treating others special no matter where they come from. With what’s going on in our world today with bullying, it’s a great and worthwhile message of just embracing each other no matter what differences there are.”
The play will be performed four times across three days at the Stonington High School auditorium: 7 p.m. on Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
“Our director understands what people want to see,” said sophomore Nick Robinson, 15, who plays the part of one of the patients at the sanatorium, “and we want to give the audience a good time.”
Besides Hall and Robinson, the cast also includes Dillon Toole, Haley Barravecchia, Heather Jackson, Anna Bornstein, Serena Monteiro, Madeline Cole, Kailey Jones, Colby LaMarche, Kara Jones, Marissa Caraballo, Katie Devoe and Graham Hutter.
“This is just a unique play,” Hall said. “It has a very strong message. You’ll laugh and reflect on what the characters teach you.”
Tickets for “The Curious Savage” are $10 for students and seniors and $12 for adults. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Stonington High School office, 860-599-5781, or at the door before each performance. The first performance is Friday at 7 p.m.