“THEY WERE PRETTY zany and wacky in many ways,” says director and native Houstonian Tiffany Nichole Greene of her high school drama teachers. “But at the time, they are the people that are pouring energy into you and giving you that space to express yourself.”
Greene is no doubt drawing on her formative experiences as a drama student to direct Vichet Chum’s coming of age comedy, High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest, which runs through Feb. 13 at the Alley. Despite its subtitle, High School Play is not just an early-aughts flashback for former drama nerds.
Its story takes place in Carrollton, Texas, where the Riverside High School theater troupe is reeling from having lost the previous year’s one-act play competition. When new kid Paul arrives from New York, the troupe’s coaches seize the opportunity to cast him as the lead in Six Degrees of Separation, a play about a conman who takes advantage of group of wealthy, white Manhattanites by convincing them he is the son of Sidney Poitier. Paul, who is Black and from the big city, quickly finds himself at odds with the small-town beliefs held by his fellow actors and the larger community of Carrollton. “There’s something about Paul’s presence that exposes other people,” says Greene. “Because his perspective is bigger, this world feels smaller.”
Greene brought Chum’s play to the attention of the Alley, knowing it would reach and connect with a broad audience. “There are a lot of universal themes in the play that I think anyone can relate to,” says Greene. “But what’s special is that it’s told through the voices of Texans.”
As a freelance director, Greene is known for giving voice to women and people of color in productions of such classic repertoire as Romeo and Juliet and A Raisin in the Sun, where Ruth’s perspective is given its due. “She is the outsider in that story,” explains Greene. “There’s a way to stage that and allow her to be present in such a way that lets us see the play differently.” But, as seen in High School Play, new perspectives often encounter pushback, something Greene counters with her deeply felt, humanistic approach theater. “At the end of the day, people are people,” says Greene. “If you can reach people’s souls, that’s the connection, and they will realize this thing that felt so foreign, now feels really familiar.”
Ricardo Dávila as Rich, Daniel Velasco as Dara, Sabrina Koss as Kailee, Jarred Tettey as Paul, Mai Le as Allison, Kaiya Scott as Sophie, and Melissa Pritchett as Ms. Blow in Alley Theatre’s production of High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest. Photo by Lynn Lane.
Daniel Velasco as Dara, and Jarred Tettey as Paul in Alley Theatre’s production of High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest. Photo by Lynn Lane.
The Cast of Alley Theatre’s production of High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest. Photo by Lynn Lane.