This play was performed last month at Damascus High School.

The Marx Brothers legend came alive when Damascus High School presented "Animal Crackers," a comedy of love and mystery.

"Animal Crackers" takes place in the summer of 1928 at the Long Island estate of Mrs. Rittenhouse, who is throwing a party with an unveiling of Roscoe W. Chandler's painting, though she has no idea what she's getting herself into.

When Capt. Jeffrey T. Spaulding shows up as an honored guest, the whole house goes into mass confusion. Before the painting is unveiled, somebody switches the real one with a copy, and that's where the real story begins.

There were a few first-timers on stage, but most of the performance went smoothly. Much of the show's momentum was because of the technical crew; the lighting and sound effects gave life to the show. In one scene, the auditorium went black and suddenly there was booming lightning; the audience actually felt like it was in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Rob Richards, Tiara Cole and Frances Wang deserve credit for adding a twist on the plot by blaming other people and leading Spaulding into even more comedic confusion. Chandler, played by Jimmy Creegan, was another humorous character, although his accent made it hard to hear all his comebacks to Spaulding.

The star of this show had to be Ben Hirschhorn, who played Spaulding. He had perfect comedic timing. His quick, back-talking humor brought the whole stage to life and (to those who could follow) the audience to laughter.

All the credit cannot go to the students. Director Quinn McCord arranged this production by taking pieces from the "Animal Crackers" script, musical and movie and combining them to make one overall fantastic performance.

Jessie Riddle

James Hubert Blake High School

Damascus High School deserved the standing ovation it received in its presentation of the Marx Brothers' "Animal Crackers." Directed by Quinn McCord, the production can only be described as a laugh-out-loud comedy.

The director created an adaptation of the "Animal Crackers" musical and show by taking the best of both and creating a new version that was successfully funny. He was equally successful at perfectly casting the actors and directing them in a superb representation of clearly understood characters.

Everyone has snappy comebacks, and all perform outrageous acts with speed as they try to outwit the next person while keeping the dialogue and comedy alive.

The stage is set at the Long Island estate of Mrs. Rittenhouse in the summer of 1928, where a party is being held for famous artist Roscoe W. Chandler. The famous Captain Spaulding, who has returned from Africa and is staying at the estate, is invited with many other guests to meet him. Everyone has a job to do in the house, but the Marx Brothers conveniently disrupt the whole organization and seem to still come out as heroes at the end.

The speed and realism of Groucho's character (Captain Spaulding) was so authentic it was as if you were watching the real actor on the movie screen. The impeccable performance was Ben Hirschhorn's.

Several other performances were memorable as well, including the piano solo of Imanuel Ravelli, played by Matt Johnson, who performed songs that had no endings. The silent but masterful professor, played by James Freeman, always had something up his sleeve or in his coat to surprise you with his creative slapstick comedy, which gave balance to the play.

No matter how often you have seen the Marx Brothers, the production did not disappoint. The help and talent of all the characters made it an impeccable performance and provided a new respect and outlook on all future productions by Damascus High School.

Jonathan Lugo

James Hubert Blake High School

This play was performed last month at Albert Einstein High School.

Albert Einstein High School's production of "Dark of the Moon" added a new twist to "Romeo and Juliet" -- Appalachian style. Although low-key, the cast managed to pull off the show with a dozen laughs, great costumes and a few star performances.

The play weaves the tale of a witch boy, John, who can become human and stay with mountain girl Barbara Allen if he can marry her; however, she must be faithful to him for one year or John will turn back into a witch and forever stay in the moonlight. John marries Barbara Allen, but witches and spells threaten to tear the two star-crossed lovers apart.

The ensemble was slightly weak in enthusiasm and character, but a few performances made the show a delight to watch. Uncle Smelicue, played by Alex Duncan, gave the best performance as the old man of the town. He kept the laughs coming and never once let up on character or enthusiasm. Other noteworthy performances were given by Sarah LaRue (Barbara Allen), Ariel Sims (Mrs. Allen), and the two witches (Melissa Wilson and Michelle Hill).

The show was a little slow in the first act, but emotions hit hard in the second act and made up for any small line mistakes. However, the technical aspects of the play stayed strong throughout: Smoke, lighting and sound all gave dimension and character and added tremendously to the realism and authenticity of the show. The set was a little barren, but the wonderful costumes and extensive makeup helped to gloss over the details.

"Dark of the Moon" was an unusual choice for a high school play, but Albert Einstein's production, although a little unsophisticated, was full of passion and emotion.

Amy Fries

Wootton High School

When two worlds collide, mayhem and tragedy are often inevitable. This was true in Einstein High School's fall play "Dark of the Moon."

The play is based on a version of an old Appalachian folk song about the love story between Barbara Allen, a mountain girl, and John, a witch boy from the nearby mountain. Written by Howard Richardson and William Berney, the play combines a harmonious mix of folk songs, magic, love and tragedy, and Einstein is more than up to the task to carry them all off.

The set designers and sound and lighting technicians worked wonders to create an authentic neglected town. Chickens could be heard clucking behind a decrepit wooden shack. The house seamlessly changed into the front of a dusty general store in quick set adjustments. The story sometimes seemed disjointed, moving from the cheerful town to the mysterious witch mountain; however,the Einstein tech crew made smooth lighting transitions from the bright, gaudy orange and purple of the town to a dim, eerie blue, complete with wispy smoke.

The costumes and makeup were also superbly done. In the town, the men swaggered around in denim overalls and plaid shirts, while the woman wore modest flower-printed dresses. On the mountain, the witches' faces were transformed to look subhuman, and their clothes were filmy, wispy and sparkling. Conjur Man and Conjur Woman, two weathered old spirits, were outfitted in brown shredded attire, reminiscent of the bogeymen.

This Einstein performance was meticulously crafted and executed, and the actors and actresses put genuine enjoyment into embodying their characters.

Barbara's parents also added a colorful dimension to the show, with Ariel Sims as the strikingly realistic Mrs. Allen, a washed-out, dumpy mother with an iron will. Her husband, Mr. Allen, performed by a hunched-over and wrinkled Daniel Kolko, played off her with just the right amount of stodgy concern, while he supplied the local preacher with "mountain dew" liquor.

The town character that really stole the show, though, was Uncle Smelicue. He was an old man whose frenetic motions and personality, whether singing, dancing or telling a dramatic story to the town youth, were magnetic.

The witches, Michelle Hill and Melissa Wilson, gave the right mix of vixen and evil temptress, as they cackled together. Sarah LaRue and Rob Tebow were excellent in the roles of the young lovers, coquettish independent Barbara Allen and earnest, strong-willed John the witch boy.

As usual, Einstein gave a strong, solid show. This is a story that transcends time. It asks the question: Can two separate communities let their children be together? That question has been broached in everything from literature, such as "Romeo and Juliet," to today's interfaith and interracial marriages.

Tali Schatz

Winston Churchill High School