Immaculate Conception School performs classic play at the Nancy Howe Auditorium
By Sandy Rigas, Photo gallery by Victorya Mattison
What began as a cultural project in Cheryl Perry’s 8th grade Spanish class at Immaculate Conception School evolved into a two-act play presented for the community May 5 at the Nancy Howe Auditorium. Along with the Kindergarten class as supporting players, they presented a show-stopping performance of their original play “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.”
While introducing the students to traditional Spanish literature, they became intrigued by the works of the great Spanish author of the 16/17th centuries, Miguel de Cervantes, particularly the fictional character of “Don Quixote,” said Perry.
Perhaps these students had ‘caught the theatre bug’ while rehearsing for the Christmas play presented by ICS at the Library’s auditorium. Perry had drafted a script based on Cervantes’ novel for them to read aloud in class, and the students began to discuss the idea of adapting the script into a play to perform on stage at the Nancy Howe Auditorium. “Just like the character of Don Quixote, the students dared to dream. It was their dream to do this play, and tonight they realized their dream,” said Perry, after the performance.
The play featured seven scenes, vignettes of the life of Don Quixote (played by Zakkary Ueblacker) a middle-aged Spanish landowner and recluse, who spent most of his time reading about tales of knights, battles, and adventures. His imagination led him into a world of fantasy, which for him, became reality. “He would fantasize fighting dragons and giants,” said 8th grader Samuel Hernandez, who played Don Quixote’s horse, “Rocinante.”
“I learned that Don Quixote was quite delusional. He was very ambitious and never stopped looking for adventure,” said Alexa Hennessy, who played “The Housekeeper.”
“Don Quixote didn’t really care about people’s opinions, and just had fun with his life. It was really inspiring to be able to act this out at the theatre,” said Ava Cole, who played “The Niece.”
As if reading a bedtime story aloud, Addyson Clark, in period costume, narrated the play. “While doing this play, we were able to learn a lot more about Spanish culture and more about that time in history. It was interesting how life was then; it taught us how we should persevere, and that bravery is important,” she said.
Sierra Caruso, playing the donkey “Rucio,” commented, “A whimsical man, Don Quixote imagined he was a knight who needed to save the world. Sancho Panza was his only anchor to reality.”
Sanch Panza (played by Jonah MacCartney) is a local peasant who becomes Don Quixote’s squire. Together, along with Rocinante and Rucio, they journeyed through fields and forest (trees portrayed by kindergarten students Bryson Miller, Gregory Wargo, Cameron Willson, and Henry Wright). In a village they encounter “The Neighbor” (Sarah Mattison), “The Barber” (Samuel Hernandez in a dual role), and “The Priest” (Sierra Caruso in a triple role). The travelers are laughed at by “The Townspeople” played by kindergarten students Jackson Francisco, Sullivan Kehrer, and Gregory Ueblacker.
Whether at home reading, or traveling with his squire, Don Quixote was always thinking and dreaming about his imaginary, unseen maiden love, “Dulcinea” (portrayed by Lydia Kaye). The greatest of his fantasies, she was not only his ideal of feminine beauty and virtue but his compass, his reason to live, and it was for her adoration and love that he set out on his chivalrous adventures. In the novel she is inspired by a peasant girl, Aldonza Lorenzo, and in this play we see her as Don Quixote imagines her; he writes and speaks to her and we see his fantasies of her speaking to him.
In one of the most famous events in the novel, which inspired the iconic phrase “Tilting at windmills” Don Quixote, despite the pleas of Sancho Panza, and the horse and donkey, imagines the windmills are giants, and attacks them, only to be defeated. Spinning open umbrellas in unison, “The Windmills” were played by Sierra Caruso (in a triple role), Sarah Mattison (in a dual role) and Eva Sherwood, also in a dual role.
Though not part of the original novel, the students wished to include in their production a scene with traditional Spanish dancing. A Flamenco dance was performed featuring Eva Sherwood, with kindergarten students Bella Wang and Finley Roberts, all wearing colorful Flamenco costumes.
A pleasant intermission interlude was a musical performance by David Peralta & String Ensemble, featuring classical pieces by Bach, and Hadyn, and several contemporary South American composers.
Peralta, who plays violin, viola, and guitar, was formerly a member of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. “The orchestra is widely acclaimed in Venezuela, and has performed around the world,” said Perry.
Currently, Peralta is a missionary and music minister for the Knight’s Creek Church in Scio and has organized a String Ensemble comprised of students from elementary and middle schools across Allegany County. Members of the ensemble who performed at the intermission include Peralta’s children, Valentina, on viola, and Sebastian, on violin. Hailey Illebrun played violin and clarinet, and ICS third-grade student Celeste Sherwood played violin.
ICS fifth-grade students Grace Lewis, Brooke Willson, Reese Babbitt, Payton Halm, and Wes Urbano served as greeters and ushers, along with ICS Administrative Assistant Julie Willson. Mary Ann Newark, Kindergarten Teacher and Director of Religious Education, served as host, with Principal Caitilin Dewey also welcoming the audience and thanking the families for their support. The production crew included Yum Sanders, Annie Benz, Liz Sherwood, Julie Willson, Zoe Menguito, Dean Perry, Gary Havens, and Chris Harriger. Costumes were by Janiece Dahlgren. Cheryl Perry served as director, producer, and choreographer.
Perry also expressed a special thank you to The David A. Howe Library & Nancy Howe Auditorium, Daphne O’Kelly, STEPS Dance Studio, and David Peralta & String Ensemble.
The students performed for a full house; many of the audience were not there mainly to support a family member or friend in the production. Many came out to see live theatre, one of whom commented that she was amazed that these were 8th graders. “They had the poise of high school students,” she added.
The 8th Graders mused a few days later about their experience with this production. “I learned about all the hard work and dedication that goes into producing a play. You have to learn the blocking as well as your lines,” said Alexa Hennessy. “I also learned that people actually like watching plays!”
“This play taught us how important teamwork is,” said Addyson Clark (the Narrator). Echoing this, Sierra Caruso, who played a trio of characters (“Rucio” the Donkey, “The Priest” and “Windmill 1”) added, “I learned how to become a character!”
Expressing gratitude to all who supported them, Ava Cole (“The Niece”) especially lauded the DAH and NHA staff. “My class and I had so much fun working with the Library staff and crew. They were so helpful and accommodating to our small class,” she said. “And, I learned to have fun while doing this real-world experience with my friends.”