THE UNE PLAYERS cast of "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep" -- Downstage row (l-r): Taylor Ouellette (Stage Manager), Amanda Anderson, Alexandria Makucewicz, Jessica Dunton-Fidalgo (Director), Brianna Turcotte and Olivia Wheeler. Upstage row (l-r): Matt Eaton (Sound Board Op), Casey Hutchinson, Casey Northup, Sierra Alley, Nickalaus Collins, Abby Randall, Briar Bragdon, Carl Berridge and Rachel Jozitis. Photo: Audra Hatch (audrahatch.com)

THE UNE PLAYERS cast of “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” — Downstage row (l-r): Taylor Ouellette (Stage Manager), Amanda Anderson, Alexandria Makucewicz, Jessica Dunton-Fidalgo (Director), Brianna Turcotte and Olivia Wheeler. Upstage row (l-r): Matt Eaton (Sound Board Op), Casey Hutchinson, Casey Northup, Sierra Alley, Nickalaus Collins, Abby Randall, Briar Bragdon, Carl Berridge and Rachel Jozitis. Photo: Audra Hatch (audrahatch.com)

November, 2014

The thrills and spills of everyday high school life take center stage this weekend in UNE’s production of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, a fast-moving exposé of teen living written by Maine playwright Jerry Walker and being presented at Biddeford City Theater.

The play is a montage of 20 mini scenes, mainly monologues, that depict a day-in-the-life-of any teen in any high school in any town, facing any number of issues, challenges and consequences—Love, Dating, Fear, Stress, Disappointment, Pregnancy, Cliques, Parents, Sexuality, Drinking, Betrayal, Stress, Hate, Suicide…all the elements that shape the memories and milestones that young people carry into their adulthood.

The UNE Players—a strong ensemble cast of 12— does an admirable job interpreting the personalities, challenges and experiences of about 30 characters the audience can easily recognize from their own high school years. Even though my ancient high school memories may have been different, it wasn’t a far stretch to recall similar scenarios and characters that resurrect similar emotions.

There are very sweet and tender moments, some quite funny, wonderfully balanced by more harsh and obnoxious realities of growing up.

What was quite refreshing to see was the level of ability and confidence in a group that had many first-time actors. For sure there were a few seasoned cast members who applied tremendous instinct to their characters. But that didn’t overshadow the novices with little or no playbill credits. Judging by the strength of these individual performers, future UNE Players productions are looking very solid.

Cudos to the fine ensemble for a fine effort: Sierra Alley, Amanda Anderson, Carl (“glad he decided to not chicken out before auditions”) Berridge, Briar Bragdon, Nickalaus Collins, Casey Hutchinson, Rachel Jozitis, Alexandria Makucewicz, Casey Northup, Taylor Ouellette (Stage Manager), Abby Randall, Brianna Turcotte and Olivia Wheeler.

Watching these kids on stage (and I have earned the criteria to call them “kids”) serving up their slices of life is quite entertaining and provocative. Director Jessica Dunton-Fidalgo effectively doled out just the right amount of gentle artistic support to provide an empowering and nourishing environment for the kids to develop their own characters and back-stories.

“These kids really are able to work completely independent of ego or personal glorification – which is very refreshing,” said Dunton-Fidalgo. “They just want to do what they need to do to make the play better and tell the story.”

The cast was remarkable at their multi roles and quick costume changes. The rapid-fire sketches went off without a hitch—but without consistent “scene change” indications (change of lights, momentary music break). But without a story line per se, it took a bit before I was able to figure out that cast members who were just on stage were back in a flash but in a different role with a different name. The playbill quickly became my GPS.
“I find this play a challenge in terms of its style,” noted the director. “It’s very much a collection of character sketches rather than something that builds in a traditional 2 act structure, so I think it’s hard for more inexperienced actors to figure out how to create that back-story and differentiate the characters from one another when they’re cast across multiple roles. But they catch on fast and I’ve been impressed at their willingness to be vulnerable with a lot of tough subject matter.”

This type of genre has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, monologues make it easy for actors to independently learn their lines and easy to stage with nominal sets, lighting and tech. On the other hand, the lack of production value can render such a production more suitable for a targeted high school or youth group gathering versus a mainstream offering in a grandiose venue such as a Biddeford’s Salle de l’Opéra.

But it’s always nice to see original works, particularly by Mainers. Jerry Walker is a retired band director (Oxford Hills HS and Stearns HS) and a theater director (Schoolhouse Arts, Lake Region Community Theater, Oxford Hills Community Theater and Windham Center Stage. He is one of the founders, actors and director of the Daytime Players.

Jessica Dunton-Fidalgo is an Actor’s Equity actress, teacher and writer who recently moved “back home” to Maine, bringing much heart and soul—and experience—with her. She attended performing arts boarding school for high school then got her BFA degree in Theater Performance from Miami University. She lived in Chicago for about five years, graduating from Second City Conservatory and doing lots of acting, improv and comedy before moving to New York City. She continued her journey with the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia where she met her husband and the two moved to Washington DC.

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep has enjoyed significant exposure since 1997 with one-act festivals and public performances at high schools around the state of Maine.

While the production—as it was created—may lack the razzle dazzle of a musical blockbuster with memorable lines and songs, the impact of this show’s message lingers in its post-production…like days after when my mind would revisit the scenes, continuing the generation of awareness the author no doubt intended (particularly the final scene which brought the audience full circle).

The Director’s hope: “I just want people to appreciate the universality of a teenager’s experience – they have many of the same fears and struggles as adults do, just on a different scale.”

Actually, now that light-years separate me from my teen years, I have to admit that while I appreciated the freeze-frame vignettes, my default response was “where are the parents of these kids?” And I was thankful to Mr. Walker for his almost subliminal alternative message that there is hope and fulfillment in taking responsibility and making right choices.

But there’s no escaping it. In order to become adults we must all be teens. Not to be overlooked is how Mr. Walker’s revelation of daily life in a public high school begins and ends with a prayer…perhaps another subtle message of hope? We can all use prayer.

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep runs Friday, November 14th and Saturday, November 15th at 7:30 PM, and Sunday, November 16th at 2 PM at Biddeford City Theater, 205 Main St., Biddeford. General Admission is $10, (free with UNE I.D.). For tix and info call 207 602-2891.


–Louis Philippe


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