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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 26, 2009

The Dionysians’ Flowers for Algernon teaches kindness and compassion

By Saranac Hale Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Acting out the arc of Charlie Gordon’s life, through retardation and genius, illustrates the harsh side of humanity for the high school drama club.

Students learn literature from the inside out when they perform it, said producer Portia Hubert.  Reading a book gives a first glimpse of the story, she said, but performing it allows kids to examine each character and passage, each mood and motivation.

From this year’s production of Flowers for Algernon, students are learning that every person needs to be treated with kindness and understanding, Hubert said.  “They really want to convey that message to the audience,” added the play’s director, Wayne Manchester.

Each year, the pair tries to choose a different kind of play according to what students in the club need to learn for their dramatic education, Hubert said.  This is the first serious play that the Voorheesville Dionysians have performed in a few years; lately, they have produced comedies and musicals.

Daniel Keyes’s raw portrayal of man’s dark psychology traces the experience of Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded 32-year-old who undergoes an experimental operation that dramatically increases his intelligence level.  The 1950’s science fiction story, later turned into a novel and a play, allows for a broad critique of society and human nature.

“It’s disturbing, the way they’re treating him,” said Liam Brennan, the sixth-grader who plays young Charlie Gordon, of his character’s situation.  “It’s almost like he doesn’t have a soul to them.”

Alexis Moore, a junior who plays Professor Nemur, sees the same ethical void.  Through her character’s perspective, Moore said, “He’s a person and I’m treating him like I can experiment on him.”

Charlie Gordon is the most difficult role that John Maddaloni has played, he said. The 17-year-old senior plans to pursue acting in college next year.  When Maddaloni was 13, he saw The Producers on Broadway and, he said, “[I] just decided that’s where I want to be.”

“I loved it from the beginning,” he said of the first reading last summer of Flowers for Algernon, which is named for the mouse that undergoes the same experiment as Charlie Gordon.  “It had a lot of emotion,” he said.

It took a long time for Maddaloni to get into the part, he said, since it’s really more like playing three roles because of the character’s evolution.  “In the beginning, he’s really more of a child,” Maddaloni said.  He captures the innocence of Charlie Gordon and illustrates the physical attributes of a mentally retarded adult with honesty before seamlessly taking on more intellect and awareness, leading the character to isolation and despair.

“It is pretty difficult for me,” he said of maintaining integrity in the role.  Maddaloni knows people with disabilities and recognizes a fine line between portrayal and mockery.  “I’m hoping to do more of a justice than anything,” he said.

“It hits home to the subject,” said Martha-Mary Lane, who plays Charlie Gordon’s employer, Mrs. Donner.

Flowers for Algernon is “a lot more challenging” for an actor than some of the other plays that Jacob Brill, a junior, has been in, he said, but it’s rewarding, too.  Reading the script last summer, he thought, “This is going to be the most difficult, but probably the best, one we’ve ever done.”

The play will be performed on March 27 and 28 at 7:15 p.m. and March 29 at 2:15 p.m. in the performing arts center at Voorheesville’s high school on Route 85A.  Tickets will be sold at the door for $8 for adults with a $3 discount for students and senior citizens.

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