A Clearing in the Woods
by Rancho Buena Vista High School

Driven to the edge of despair, Virginia has spontaneously decided to drive out to the family cabin in the woods. There she seems forced into a deep self-examination aided by real or imagined “echoes” of her past, led by three mysterious girls who claim to know her. But are they there to help her in this last, desperate attempt to find solace and happiness, or are they there to push her over into oblivion?

Poetic and powerful, this rarely performed piece by Arthur Laurents (West Side Story, The Bird Cage, Anyone Can Whistle) received a riveting production by Rancho Buena Vista High School. Director Mark Scott used haunting music and skillful lighting to strengthen the dreamlike quality of the tale, and put together a cast that masterfully drew out the characters and emotions of the play.

Margot Nelson stars as Virginia, a lonely thirtysomething long-since divorced and working as a secretary/executive assistant, who has been determined to lead an extraordinary life that defies convention. But that drive has brought her more pain than happiness, propounding failures while diminishing successes of herself and those she loves, resulting in nothing but miserable self-loathing. Her escape to the woods leads her to a necessary confrontation with her past that includes her distant and mostly loveless father, her former boyfriend Andy, and the three mysterious girls who claim that they want Virginia to take care of them and to like them.

The three girls have the greatest ability to create the various moods of the play, weaving in and out of the clearing, replaying memories of Virginia’s past, at times poignant and nurturing, at times childish, obnoxious, disconcerting, and downright frightening. Katie Schmucker is Ginna, a young and confident woman about to get married for the wrong reasons. Whitney Fortmueller is Nora, a teenager who delights in being bad just for the sake of it, even when it brings her no pleasure. Valarie Russell is Jigee, a young girl permanently hurt by her father’s apathy toward her, so touchingly portrayed by Valarie. They interact with Virginia, her father, and various friends and lovers in Virginia’s life including her amusing friend Hazelmae (Ramani Greenblatt), a smooth-talking George (Matthew Guerrero), a philosophizing one-night stand (Arben Selimi), her ex-husband (Dishon Petros), and Mark Hoke as Andy – the loss she really regrets.

Jacob Silva is Virginia’s father Barney who does his best to avoid any discussion of a personal nature – especially regarding his role as a father, with Jacob giving a deeply layered performance as an imperfect man who wants to be better than he is, but who talks himself into believing it just isn’t possible. Tying them all together is the genuine and stirring performance of Margot as she struggles with the insanity of her dreamworld and the painful memories it reveals, her portrayal forming the heart and soul of the play – especially in the final scene as she reaches out to the ghosts of her past in what could be her last chance to find love with her father and, even more importantly, with herself.

Performed through November 10, 2004.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Virginia: Margot Nelson
Hazelmae: Ramant Greenblatt
Jigee: Valarie Russell
Nora: Whitney Fortmueller
George: Matthew Guerrero
Ginna: Katie Schmucker
Andy: Mark Hoke
Barney: Jacob Silva
The Boy: Arben Selimi
Pete: Dishon Petros

Director: Mark Scott
Technical Director: James Malone
Assistant Director: Laura Brooks
Stage Manager: Ryan Seybert
Lighting Master: Christine Abernathy
Sound Manager: Jeff Strong
Make-up and Costuming:
Karina Calderon
Lara Kirkbride
Mary LeBlanc


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