Although it has light moments, Olentangy High School's production of Anatomy of Gray, which opens Friday, Jan. 17, is serious business.
Olentangy drama instructor David Hinds said that's by design. The young actors in the production have proven they know comedy, but this production gave them a chance to practice different skills, he said.
"They've been comedy-ed enough," Hinds said. "They needed to learn the dramatic techniques."
The play, set in 1800s Indiana, asks big questions about life, death, faith and forgiveness, and touches on adult themes. In his introduction to the play, author Jim Leonard wrote that society's reaction to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and early '90s helped inspire the play.
Hinds said the story of Dr. Galen Gray, a man "running from himself and trying to find himself," and his interactions with the townspeople of Gray, Ind., gave his students a chance to grow as actors. Gray, who arrives in the small town via hot-air balloon crash, is followed shortly after by a mysterious plague, leading to questions for the townsfolk and the audience.
Junior Tyler Aquilina said preparing for the role of Dr. Gray was more complicated than preparing for a full-on comedy.
"There's really a whole new set of rhythms and techniques you have to utilize in drama," he said. "I think it requires a lot more focus on a lot of the intricacies of the character."
Despite the setting and heavy themes, cast and crew members said the production is not a stuffy period piece.
"Everyone can relate to a certain character," stage manager Rachel Meiring said. "Every aspect in the show is something that hits home, even if you were never in the shoes of one of the characters."
The play's time period did provide a few challenges for the actors.
"For girls, you had to figure out how to act, how they acted back then, because they're a lot more conservative," cast member Gwen Cecil said.
Hinds said students had to do research into 19th-century American history to learn how their characters would behave.
"For the girls, it was kind of a big education to realize they're not allowed to vote yet. They're not allowed to work yet," he said.
Hinds said students also had to tackle the play as if they were reading a novel in English class. He said it's easy to breeze through the play and miss themes and foreshadowing, but he required his actors to take a deeper look.
"We did a lot of script analysis in the beginning, which isn't usually necessary with a comedy because they're not very intricate," Hinds said.
Tyler said the play may seem light at first, but a deeper look proves rewarding.
"I know I, for one, read it and thought, 'Well, there really isn't much there,' at first," he said. "And then when we started to get into it, I was like, 'Whoa, this is so layered and deep and literary.' "
Audience members have three chances to take a step back in time with the school's thespian troupe this weekend. Olentangy High School, 675 Lewis Center Road, will present Anatomy of Gray at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17-19.
For tickets or more information, call the school box office at 740-657-4191. Tickets cost $5 for students, staff and senior citizens, $10 for adults.