Highlands High School (Ft. Thomas, Ky.)

May 30, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Arienette, central character in the interest-compelling production Names, is a young girl beset by demons, not unlike a character in an old-fashioned story. But because this is not an old-fashioned story, her demons are figments of schizophrenia — every bit as hard to handle as the demons of old. And illnesses, mental or otherwise, subtly affect each family member: mother, father, brother — all are touched.

Highlands High School brings this quickly moving Fringe Next production to the SCPA Black Box Theater with a 10-person cast, young actors able to divest themselves of their actual ages at will.

The central character’s fifth birthday happens early on, but she grows older as the play progresses. A fifth birthday is an exciting event, as some of the birthdays before might be lost to memory, but Arienette’s mental state means she shares with creatures not accessible to her parents or, indeed, anyone else. Some are friendly and seem to enhance her life; one in particular has other aims in mind.

Arienette’s mental state also gives her nightmares and what might be called “daymares.”  It also drives her mother beyond acceptance. We see sad and sorry things happening within this family. There is a desperate turn to a therapist, who is not reassuring.

A blackboard, where things chalked earlier by Arienette and her imaginary companions had been ill lit and illegible to the audience, suddenly is directly spotlighted and readable when the therapist is on the scene. What we see is “Birthday,” “Toy” and a series of cheerful, line-drawn figures, all scribbled over in red.

The actors, called upon to be something far from their regular lives — in age or as imagined creatures — do highly credible jobs. Because there was no printed program I don’t have their names, but I want to cite particularly those who played Arienette and her mother, as well as the wonderfully malevolent cat who lives somewhere inside Arienette’s imagination but is embodied in a black T-shirt and black trousers. We know he is evil.

Names is wholly a production of Highlands High School, written by sophomore Kaiya Linkugel.

NAMES by Highlands High School (Ft. Thomas, Ky) will be performed 7 p.m. May 30 and 2:30 p.m. May 31 at the School for Creative & Performing Arts (108 W. Central Parkway, Over-the-Rhine).