For the love of community

Posted March 01, 2010, at 6:51 p.m.

Rico Rattina never saw himself as an actor. A basketball player, sure. A romantic lead in a play? Not top on a list of things likely to happen. And yet, here is Rattina, a junior at North Haven Community School, playing the love-struck Christopher in the school’s production of the original one-act play, “For the Love of Zooey.”

“Zooey,” a humorous romance about a group of eighth-graders, was written by North Haven native Adam Alexander and will have its world premiere this Thursday, March 4, at Waterman’s Community Center. The students then will perform the play at the regional Maine Drama Festival competition at Rockland High School on Saturday, March 6. Alexander, a boat builder by trade and playwright in his spare time, wrote “Zooey” especially for the school — right down to the characters, many of which were created with specific students in mind.

“How did he know I could do that? I’ve never been in a show before, but he wrote a character for me. It’s kind of crazy,” said Rattina. “I definitely, like, hadn’t thought I could act before. But I’m doing it, and it’s pretty fun.”

Alexander has written plays for three summer seasons at Waterman’s, including “Zelda,” “Rocking Horse” and “Boom! Times Five,” as well as his latest, the still-in-the-works “The 98 Pound Gorilla,” set to debut at Waterman’s this August. For “Zooey,” North Haven drama coach Courtney Naliboff commissioned Alexander to write a show for the Maine Drama Festival, in which nearly every school district in the state sends a one-act play to regional competitions, held in nine locations from north to south.

“I don’t necessarily know all these kids really well, but when you live on the island, you kind of know everyone in some way,” said Alexander, a 2000 graduate of North Haven Community School. “You see their personalities and their attitudes, and the little things that make them different. I went from that, in creating all the characters.”

“Zooey” takes place in a schoolyard. Freddy (Charlie Jones) loves Zooey (Erin Cooper). Christopher (Rattina) also loves Zooey — but a different Zooey (Leta Hallowell). Nobody realizes there are two Zooeys at the school. Walt and Jackie (Craig Waterman and Stephanie Brown) try to correct the situation. The school bullies, Larry, Darryl and Darryl (Ann Marie Beverage, Jeremy Page and Riley Venger) complicate matters.

“I was definitely inspired by those scenes in Shakespeare, like in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ where everything gets confused and people fall in love with the wrong person,” said Alexander. “It’s kind of light and funny.”

In addition to being a play written in North Haven, for North Haven, “Zooey” is unique this year in that every single high school student at North Haven Community School involved — all 17 of them, whether they’re onstage or off. This Saturday, those 17 students will take the ferry to the mainland to participate in the festival, a much-anticipated event for the nearly 3,000 students from 79 schools that participate. Tourney time is to basketball players and fans as the Maine Drama Festival is to theater kids. It just doesn’t get on TV.

North Haven has a long tradition of excellence in the arts. For nearly 10 years, Tony Award-winning producer, director and designer John Wulp led the North Haven Community School drama program. Until 2008, Alexander himself lived in New York City. He was there for several years, working as a director’s assistant to Wulp, before returning to his hometown to work in his family business, Brown’s Boatyard.

“It says a lot about our community that we have someone here that could write us a play that is about us and our lives,” said Erin Cooper, 17, one of the two Zooeys. “The lines feel really natural. It feels really normal. It feels like our lives. It’s not totally me, but it’s pretty close.”

As an educational experience, “Zooey” has been unique in many ways. While they’re doing their homework and, in many cases, playing sports, every student is in the show — with Alexander working right next door, available for questions anyone might have.

“It’s been really great for them to be able to talk to the playwright and ask him questions,” said Naliboff, who created the nationally acclaimed “Milk Man” ballet in 2006, based on the album of the same name by indie rock band Deerhoof. “Hardly anyone ever gets that experience, as far as theater goes, especially at a high school level. And it’s been something that literally everyone in the school has taken part in. It’s for everyone, and it’s about everyone.”

Maine Drama Festival

The regional competitions for the Maine Drama Festival wikll be held Friday, March 5, and Saturday, March 6, at nine locations across the state, including Bangor High School, Rockland High School, Stearns High School, Skowhegan High School, Cony High School, Leavitt Area High School, Windham High School, Thornton Academy and Marshwood High School.

State competitions are set for March 19 and 20 , with Class A competitions (schools with more than 550 students) at Yarmouth High School, and Class B (fewer than 550 students) at Camden Hills Regional High School.

For information, visit the Maine Drama Council Web site at http://www.fivetowns.net/subsites/StromAud/MDC/index.htm.

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