by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
With a poignant rendition of a wartime tale about a doomed soldier, graced by technical assistance from an Army master sergeant, Rogers High School has advanced to one-act play sectionals.
With Ryan Shaw in the lead role, RHS’s “Booby Trap,” directed by Shane Noecker and Gail Weber, placed second among five schools in sub-sectionals on Saturday, Feb. 1, at Osseo.
Rogers will compete at Section 5AA on Saturday, Feb. 8, at St. Michael-Albertville, with three other schools. The winner advances to the state meet.
“It’s a very frightening thought,” said Shaw about his role as Sgt. Peter Galen, “to be trapped, with absolutely no way out, and the only thing saving you is not moving, even though in the end, it still won’t matter.”
We see Galen immobile and cross-legged the whole 30 minutes because he accidentally sat on a land mine when resting against a stump. The mine didn’t explode, because of the way it’s lodged in the stump, but, a mine defuser tells him upon examination, it will go off as soon as the soldier moves.
The unfolding story takes us through flashbacks in Galen’s life, interspersed with fellow soldiers trying to help him from his predicament, until they all realize it’s hopeless.
“It’s very numbing for my legs,” Shaw grinned, after a rehearsal Friday evening at Zabee Theatre in Elk River. “I have to be carried off in most cases. (At competition) you have to strike the set quickly, to get it out of way, and I also have to be ‘gotten out of the way.’ ”
“Booby Trap” was written by Ed Monk, a high school theatre teacher in Virginia.
Half the cast is soldiers, and Master Sergeant Brian Fulkerson is there to advise the young actors about military bearing and customs, giving the RHS play more authenticity than most high school plays where the military is depicted.
At the rehearsal we viewed, for instance, Fulkerson coached Kate Stillman, portraying a lieutenant, on the mechanics of saluting, and corrected Tyler Donnay, portraying a captain, when he pointed a finger skyward in reference to war planes.
“In a battle zone, you don’t point,” he said. “Keep your hand flat as you motion upward.”
Fulkerson, a 22-year Army veteran currently stationed in Buffalo, where he trains reservists, was recruited by his daughter, Mikkel, one of the cast members. Noecker said it was a “complete surprise” when this happened, and they were delighted to have him.
Fulkerson, who also provided the cast with Army uniforms through his unit, did his best to make the kids look and sound like soldiers.
“The biggest thing, the first thing, was how to move, how to walk, how to hold themselves,” said Fulkerson, who continued to work on posturing during the rehearsal.
Another example: “The drill sergeant, he does a very good job. I had to show him how he needed to talk as a drill sergeant.”
Reilly Othoudt did indeed capture the rapid-fire cadence of the intimidating drill sergeant, so familiar to all veterans, in a scene where he is conjured up by Galen in remembering his training on land mines.
With Shaw unable to use body language like most actors, his emotions must all come from his face, half-covered by his helmet, quite a challenge for a first time actor. But with subtle intensity he effectively conveys the hope and dread associated with his situation along with joy and humor in flashbacks, such as meeting his future wife (Hannah Graffunder) on a train as they head for college.
“Ryan is a natural,” said Weber.
Stillman has a climactic exchange with Shaw as her character is ordered to the grim task of informing the soldier what he already suspects, that he’s doomed and the unit must pull out without him, ahead of an attack. This scene, with Stillman pausing, body sagging momentarily, as she gropes for the words, with Shaw, grave but stoic, asking her to talk to his wife, and Stillman delivering that sad salute, and departing, must have scored some points with the judges.
“I just put myself in his shoes,” said Stillman. “What would I do if I had to tell someone they are going to die. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
This is Rogers’ fifth try at one-act competition and the first time to advance. Rogers, runner-up behind Coon Rapids in its sub-section, was the lone District 728 school to advance this year. The previous Saturday, Elk River placed third and Zimmerman fourth in their respective sub-sections.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Stillman. “This is my third try. I was so surprised when I heard our name called. A good surprise.”