What kind of sane person would intentionally surround herself with 31 summer-crazed teenagers for three hours a night for three whole months? And do it for free? And love just about every minute of it? A spiky-haired, effusive, ageless singer/songwriter/teacher/director named Georgette Dashiell.
Dashiell is this year's plucky director for the annual collaborative teen production sponsored by Boise Parks and Recreation and Boise Little Theater--How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Dashiell selected the script because it deals with complex issues that resonate with teens and challenge them artistically. Dashiell has no interest in sheltering adolescents; she knows the power of looking at the world through lenses beyond your own. She knew that How To Succeed's edgy script set in the 1960s would push the envelope but she was more committed to staying true to the era than censoring the script. Cast members sport period clothes and hairstyles and some smoke, drink and gawk at girls' chests--all in the name of a time when such behavior was an accepted part of business culture.
The story begins when young, ambitious window washer, J. Pierrepont Finch happens upon a book offering instructions on the quickest route up the corporate ladder. Faithfully adhering to the book, Finch lands an entry-level job in the mailroom of J.B Biggley's World Wide Wicket Company. There, he quickly gains promotions by kissing up to boss Biggley and continually outsmarting his rival and the boss's nephew, Bud Frump. Meanwhile, secretary Rosemary Pilkington pines away for handsome Finch, who openly tells her he cannot afford to be distracted from his plotted path to fame and fortune. Ultimately, Finch is forced to rely on his own smarts and in doing so--don't hold your breath--he gets the girl and a better job.
How to Succeed's commentary on big business and the roles in the 1960s workplace--where the rise of feminism and individualism challenged conformity and the traditional corporate mentality--also attracted Dashiell. The play parodies stereotypes and shines light on still-relevant issues of hypocrisy, nepotism, sexism and insincerity. On a more personal level, Dashiell was drawn to the script's parallels to her parents own 1960s love story; her father was the then youngest V.P. in the history of RCA and her mother was his secretary.
The 12- to 18-year-olds in the cast bring mixed theatrical, dance and vocal experience, and hail from schools as near as East Junior High and as far as Eagle High. Their committment (and that of their parents) has fueled Dashiell's dedication, and together they have toiled to create a production devoid of the usual, forgivable weaknesses intrinsic to youth theater. The set is fabulous, the costumes authentic, the actors believable (even in roles requiring them to multiply their age by four), the choreography tight, the staging innovative and the vocals always audible--and often tuneful.
Written in 1961, many of the lines in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play are timeless and raucously funny. Finch's book admonishes him to choose a company big enough that no one actually knows what anyone else is really doing. And the musical number "Coffee Break" is an absolute scream--with cast members pretending to stab themselves, groveling on their knees and writhing in desperation because they are so pained by the lack of java in the break room. One particularly prescient one-liner is delivered by Finch to Biggley after some sycophantic bonding about Biggley's passion for knitting, "I feel sorry for men who don't knit; they lead empty lives."
Adding to great writing are the strong characterizations by the lead actors (Eric Berg's Finch, Jeff Lake's J.B Biggley, Jessica Van Doren's Rosemary and Chris Bess' Bud) plus two standout supporting roles--the beguiling mistress Hedy La Rue played by Danielle Woodbury and the witty, sharp-tongued Smitty played by Carlie Fisher. And while the show may be weighted with one too many scenes, there is so much energy radiating off the stage, it's easy to make it through yet another musical number.
Dashiell says the most rewarding part of directing How To Succeed has been watching the cast members blossom as actors and as young adults. Seeing the impressive show, it is instantly clear that a memorable teenage summer can and should be spent doing more than channel surfing or making a rotisserie of your body at the pool.
How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
7 p.m. July 29-31, Aug. 5-6 with a 2 p.m. matinee Aug. 7
$7 adults, $3 children
Boise Little Theatre, 100 E. Fort Street
Tickets at box office or 342-5104