Not quite young enough to be their peers, not quite old enough to be their parents. Still, Friday Harbor High School drama coach Jenni Merritt has a way with teenagers.
She’s addressed by name in tones that reflect comfort, and trust. When that particular type of vanity only teenage girls possess comes out, she squashes it quickly with a delicate force.
Merritt is preparing high school students for the stage, but also for life beyond the classroom.
Director Jenni Merritt
“I’ve watched them grow into this image I envisioned,” she said “I’m really excited to see these kids shine.”
Directed by Merritt and starring strictly high school students, the FHHS drama group presents “The Secret Case of Sherlock Holmes,” a contemporary take on the classic tales of literature’s most famous detective. The curtain opens Jan. 15 at San Juan Community Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
But don’t expect the textbook version of Sherlock Holmes productions, the play is full of post-modern twists and illustrious characters from history books and iconic novels. In fact, Sherlock and Watson haven’t even solved their first case…yet.
It’s 1880 and H.G Wells is building his time machine. He’s been recruited to edit a novel for Arthur Conan Doyle, but he loses it. Hiring Holmes and Watson to find the manuscript, the pair scours the city but come up empty. Pressure’s on as the novelist’s uptight secretary, Miss Pinchley, badgers Wells for the edits.
A fast paced first scene sets the stage. Watson and Sherlock are discussing their preliminary findings, or lack thereof, with Wells when they hear their landlady calling. Rent is due. Hesitantly Wells shoos them inside his laboratory, which is behind a closed door. Holmes and Watson stumble into the time machine and are transported to a modern-day mental institution where the patients all have delusions of grandeur.
The patients all have one thing in common—they think they’re famous personalities. Holmes and Watson fit right in.
When a murder happens at the institution, there’s only two people fit to solve the crime.
Drake Waite as Sherlock Holmes & Courtney Bell as Dr. Sydney Freudley.
“I love that it’s a comedy,” said Essine Kilpatrick-Boe, who plays Queen Victoria (well, the person who thinks she’s Queen Victoria). “There’s so much interaction, and person-to-person banter.”
The students have shown serious dedication to the play, beginning rehearsal as early as October, slowly increasing rehearsal time up from two hours, and running lines amongst themselves over winter break, Merritt said.
It’s not just the actors who have made the show come together, the tech crew deserves credit as well for painting sets, applying makeup, running sound and lights.
“We keep it organized behind the scenes,” Jessie Pachutta said, a student on the technical crew. “We do everything the actors don’t do.”
Parents have helped, too. Moms have organized costumes. Dads have helped execute set design with power tools. Perhaps most importantly, parents have provided snacks for the cast as opening night approaches and rehearsals go later into the night.
As for Merritt, this is her first production as drama coach and she said she’s practically been living at the theatre.
“Without all the help I would have been the one in the mental institute,” she said.
Despite all the work, the student actors are having fun and building confidence. It’s quite a sight to see a teenager let loose of all inhibitions and run wildly across the stage, delivering lines boisterously. It seems theatre breeds a different kind of kid—an unabashed one.