'Sarah, Plain and Tall' is timeless, pure and simple
For her final play before retiring as drama teacher and director at Oregon City High School, Karlyn Love has chosen "Sarah, Plain and Tall," opening May 16.
The play has been on her list for a long time, but she had to wait for the right girl for the title role, one who was tall and who could both act and sing. She found that young lady in sophomore Annabella Mumma, who "is doing a great job" portraying the gutsy Sarah Wheaton, Love said.
The play is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Patricia McLachlan, and is a "really sweet, lovely story," Love said.
The drama is set in 1910 in Maine, where Sarah lives with her brother and helps him fish.
"She is a modern woman for her time; she is independent, loves to be outside and loves to fish and work with wood," Love said.
However, after her brother marries, Sarah feels like a third wheel, and so she answers an ad in the paper from a grief-stricken widower seeking a wife.
Jacob Witting lives in rural Kansas on a farm and has two children, ages 6 and 10; Sarah exchanges letters with Jacob and tells him she will come for one month to see how it goes.
"That's the play. It has romance, drama, some singing and dancing — something for everybody," Love said.
Sarah is a much-needed female role model, Love said, which is another reason she wanted to direct the play.
"She is admirable; she has courage and bravery, that is what has drawn me to her. And boy, does she speak her mind," Love said.
That quality is a timely one, she added, noting that "in this MeToo moment, we need more girls to speak out."
Mumma agrees and noted that her character has a "head-strong personality [which] makes her independent and a good debater."
Her favorite thing about Sarah is that she is so progressive for her time. "Sarah is a strong advocate for women's rights in the home, and she refuses to let her gender get in the way of getting what she wants out of life," Mumma said.
"She is the type of character that all young girls should be watching and looking up to."
The biggest challenge directing the play has been getting high school actors to bring out the romance in the show, Love said.
"Students are anxious about that — they know about romance, but not with people watching them," she said.
A touching moment in the play occurs when Sarah reveals to Jacob that she is willing to be his partner.
"She brings song, color, life and stability into the family," Love said.
Her favorite scene is when the whole cast attends a church picnic.
"I added 10 faculty members to the cast and created little families, a sense of community," she said.
The picnic scene features a "hoedown and a waltz — it will be fun for the audience," Love said.
"I love it when plays take us back to a simpler time, a time when families enjoyed singing with each other, making chores fun and being kind to each other."
Mumma's favorite scene in the play is in Act 2, when Sarah and Jacob's daughter Anna go swimming in the cow pond and return to find their dresses have gone missing.
"Anna then reveals more about herself and how she feels about her mother's death, and the two really bond over the course of the scene," Mumma said
Then Sarah and Anna sit on the steps of the house and sing together.
"It is such a precious moment between the two of them with so much variety in emotions —gaiety, to melancholy, to friendship," she said.
Mumma added that the audience will most love the actors who are playing children in the show.
"Though they are well into their high school years, they have harnessed such a phenomenal childlike quality in their acting, and they have some of the best and most hilarious lines and movements," she said.
Love said she is excited for audiences to experience 'Sarah, Plain and Tall.'
The book was published in 1986, and a Hallmark TV movie based on it aired in 1991, so it isn't too surprising that Love's students were not familiar with the story.
"When we did our first read-through, they were entranced by it, just reading it aloud. I thought, 'I hope I can carry that magic'" into the production, Love said.
Mumma describes the play as "lighthearted and sweet — a perfect getaway from whatever is happening in your life."
She said she feels blessed to be a part of this show and gets "to play such an extraordinary and courageous character, alongside all of these other remarkable and phenomenal actors.
"Everyone has poured so much hard work into 'Sarah, Plain and Tall,' and we can only hope that whoever sees it will love it as much as we do the show and one other."
What: The Theatre Arts program at Oregon City High School presents "Sarah, Plain and Tall"
When: 7:30 p.m. May 16, 17, 18 and 19
Where: OCHS Main Stage Theatre, 19761 S. Beavercreek Road
Details: Tickets are $8 at the door only — no advanced sales. The production is suitable for ages 10 and older. More information at ochspioneers.org/drama.