Love, life and loss

WHS fall play follows the story of three sisters who pass away unexpectedly

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While life is random and unfair, it is also undoubtedly precious.

That’s the theme of “Failure: A Love Story,” by Philip Dawkins, which Washougal High School theater students will perform the next two weekends.

The play focuses on the three Fail sisters, Nelly, Jenny June and Gerty, who die within one year of each other.

But despite the obvious tragedy of three members of the same family passing suddenly, the play is focused not on how they die. Instead, it places emphasis on how the sisters savor life to its fullest, and why the power of love is far greater than any individual’s successes or failures.

“I am always looking for plays that help the students really think and help take them in a different direction,” said WHS theater teacher Kelly Gregersen. “A former student of mine in the Bay Area sent this script to me, and I just fell in love with it. This is a show about love, life and loss.”

By the end of 1928, the audience is told, Nelly, Jenny June and Gerty will all be dead, expiring in reverse order, youngest to oldest, from blunt object to the head, disappearance and finally consumption. Songs and a whimsical chorus follow their stories as they live out their lives above the family clock repair shop near the Chicago River.

If you go

Cost: Tickets are $6 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens.

Show times: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11-12; and Nov. 18-19.

Location: Washburn Performing Arts Center at Washougal High School, 1201 39th St.

“Just because something ends, that don’t mean it wasn’t a great success,” the audience is told.

Gregersen noted, “It is very funny, sweet and melancholy in places. When the cast was reading it, we had to stop for people who were laughing and in other places in the script, for crying. This covers the full range of the emotional experience.”

The production is a mix of realism and fantasy, with talking clocks, birds and snakes, interwoven into the plot.

“It’s been really fun to do a piece that was written in this decade,” Gregersen said. “After we got the script for this play, the author actually emailed me and said if we needed help with anything, to contact him. That doesn’t work too well with Shakespeare.”

He continued, “I couldn’t find the tune for one of the jingles in the play and so I contacted [Dawkins] and he told me he made up the song, which is why we were not able to find it. It’s been nice to be able to troubleshoot like that.”

The most enjoyable aspect of directing the play has been watching the students weave their own ideas into the plot, Gregersen noted.

“Since there is so much focus on the ensemble group, it’s a very close cast,” he said. “That is rare for a show with 26 kids.”

Senior Bridgette McCarthy plays the role of the energetic Nelly Fail.

“She is bubbly, full of life and is known for singing and dancing,” she said. “She is pretty similar to my personality, so it’s been easy in a lot of ways.”

Junior Clara Stanton plays the athletic, competitive Jenny June Fail.

“She is a young woman who is determined to be a competitive swimmer with the men, doing the same thing,” she said. “Jenny June is very bold and has a lot of energy because she wants to be the best. It’s been fun but tough to portray her because she is so confident and that is not me. I have had to really work at getting her determination across for an audience.”

Junior Alex Wilmoth is a member of the ensemble and also plays radio sportscaster Grantlind Rice.

Cast list

Ensemble: Emily McNeale, Mady Turner, Paula Perez, Rose Elsensohn, River Pike, Alex Wilmoth, Harvey Seaman, Abigail Moreland, Brittyn Slocum, Courtney Dillman, Matt Condon, Braden Harness, Imagen Huey, Rachel Lyall, Megan Stogin, Chloe Seymour, Taylor Bollenbaugh, Madison Wilcox.

Moses/Ensemble: Shelby Brock, Dog/Ensemble: Tori Corkum, Nelly Fail: Bridgette McCarthy, Jenny June Fail: Clara Stanton, Gerty Fail: Aubrey Howell, John N. Fail: Sean Finucane, Mortimer Mortimer: Nate Strickland.

“The main goal of the ensemble is to narrate the whole play,” he said. “We set the tone and range from narrating to being other characters in the show. The hardest thing is getting the lines right when you are finishing each other’s sentences. We have really had to rely on each other and it has really helped the cast build friendships.”