Spies in the school cafeteria
Lee Pulaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s tough enough to be a teenager, even in the 1960s, but when the fate of the world rests on your shoulders, suddenly term papers and algebraic equations seem small in comparison.
Everyday teen girl Jane Doe finds herself drafted into the CIA in the comedy “Spy School,” which Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School is performing next week for its spring production.
The show takes place in 1961, when Jane must infiltrate an American high school to locate a Russian spy who is about to send classified information about the United States’ space program to the Soviet Union. Part of her undercover family are a femme fatale mom, a 40-year-old “younger” brother, and a father who takes narcissism to a whole new level.
Jane finds it difficult to succeed in a time when women were seen as housewives and secretaries and not as intelligent equals, as seen by the sexist curriculum in the high school. Obnoxious students and a prom scene like no other round out the show.
Elaina Landowski stars as Jane, the teen trying to blend in both as a student and a spy. Landowski, a senior, said she liked the role because she likes the parallels between her and her character.
“She’s an interesting character,” Landowski said. “She has very strong opinions about a lot of things, and I’m also very opinionated. She’s not afraid to assert herself and tries to do the right thing. I personally see that in myself and hope other people see that, too.”
Landowski said it appealed to her to play such a strong character in a time when women were not seen as equals and instead were expected to play a role all about making life easier for their husbands.
“My character rejects that, and I just get really angry and say, ‘No. I live for myself,’” Landowski said. “I really think that’s a powerful story to send, especially to little girls and in this day and age.”
Director Jason Fry said that another show, titled “The End of the World (With Prom to Follow),” had originally been slated to go into the spring performance slot, but plans changed when the show attracted little interest from the students.
“This was my fourth play, and we usually do something pretty funny and lighthearted in the spring, just for fun,” Fry said. “That was a little more solid — not dark — just a little more serious. We were having trouble with the casting … and they just weren’t that into it.”
Around the end of January, it became clear that the proposed play was doomed, so Fry and the cast sat in his classroom combing through plays. The students ultimately chose “Spy School,” which took a darker subject like the Cold War and turned it into a romp.
“They just seemed to catch on to it a little more and had more fun with it,” Fry said.
The switch has resulted in some challenges, including less time to learn lines, the director said, but the actors are getting the hang of their roles. He said he hopes the students will take this week, which is spring break, to prepare for next week’s performances.
Fry noted that one of his performers has studied the societal norms of the 1960s, including the fashions of the day and has been a big help. However, the students are getting into their roles, he said, because teenagers are teenagers in any time period.
“The show is a spoof on the classic spy movie, so most of the actors have a frame of reference,” Fry said. “They’ve done pretty well with it.”
Hannah Block plays former Russian spy Natasha Sparrow, a nemesis turned colleague turned nemesis turned — you’ll need to see the show to see which side she ends up on. She noted that her Russian accent was still a work in progress.
“It’s just trying to figure out what way to say certain words, maintaining through long lines,” Block said.
Block, a senior, has been in every musical and play throughout her high school years, and she was eager to be a part of “Spy School” to continue performing with what has become her second family.
“The whole spy thing was really cool, because you get to be really mysterious,” Block said. “You see the whole story play out, and the mystery gets solved. I like that aspect of it.”
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: “Spy School”
WHEN: 7 p.m. April 7-8
WHERE: Auditorium, Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School, 400 W. Grand Ave., Wittenberg
ADMISSION: $5 adults, $2 students. Admission will be accepted at the door.