HOUGHTON - "Last night was better, but better don't cut it."
Director David Crowley stands on the stage and talks to his student actors. The curtains on Houghton High School's latest play, "Guest in the House," rise this Friday. There are only a few days left to get everything perfect.
The play, written by Hagar Wilde and Dale Eunson, tells the story of Ann and Douglas Proctor, who take in Ann's 23-year-old cousin Evelyn, who is partially invalid. But Evelyn isn't as sweet and innocent as she may appear and soon her actions threaten to tear the entire family apart.
Scott Viau/Daily Mining Gazette
From left, Audrey Knuuttila, Shalina Gupta, Noah Gershenson, Rebecca Smith, Lily Ashburn and Kayla Makela act out a scene from “Guest in the House.”
Crowley has a firm commitment to choosing plays that not only highlight the acting skills of the students, but also prove that they are capable of producing quality drama, not just something that's good for a high school production.
"This has forced the kids to really do some acting," Crowley said. "What we did last year was a pretty heavy and intense thing, but this one has a lot more interpersonal things that happen and they have to learn to rise and fall and have these confrontations. It's been helpful in getting the kids some serious acting experience."
Whenever he gives his student actors a challenge, he said they rise to it.
Crowley has had "Guest in the House" in his possession for about two years, as he'll order a few plays at a time to decide which one he wants to do.
"I picked other plays in between, and when I was looking for something for this year, I read a couple sections and then I read the end," Crowley said. "When I read the last couple of pages, as soon as I saw the unexpected ending I said, 'We're doing this play.' It's gonna take people by surprise."
Crowley wants people to be aware that the play does contain some adult content and he advises people to leave younger children at home.
Kayla Makela, 16, plays the character of Aunt Martha, a caring and wise old spinster who has cared for a long-time for her semi-invalid brother.
For Makela, the rehearsals and getting ready for opening night have been going well. She also likes the character she plays.
"I like how wise my character is," Makela said. "Dave's given me a chance to play a lot of different characters and usually I'm a bit more crazy, but I'm more wise and subdued in this one, so it's kind of a challenge to make something out of something that seems to have less character."
Playing the titular "Guest in the House" is Shalina Gupta, 16, who is a junior at Houghton High School. Gupta's character is named Evelyn Heath and is a neglected woman whose father is an alcoholic.
"She's a very lonely woman who doesn't have any friends," Gupta said. "She has a heart condition so she's also very sick. She's this innocent girl, but then she also manipulates everyone."
Gupta said she's been playing the character in a more subdued manner at first, but throughout the play her craziness begins to come through.
"You start to see clues that maybe she's not who you think she is," Gupta said.
Gupta said that at first it was difficult for her to play that level of crazy, but since she's been practicing a lot, it's gotten easier.
Gupta also said she thought the plot of the play was very interesting, which was part of the reason she wanted to audition, but another reason was her love of drama.
"I like the idea of pretending to be someone you're not and then seeing things through their eyes," Gupta said. "It's interesting to be in a lifestyle that you wouldn't get to be in ever."