Youth bring talent, tenacity and esprit de corps to spooky show

The thespians of Vashon High School delivered everything from high physical comedy to moody meditation to bone-chilling jump scares as the show progressed.

It was a bumpy ride to the finish line for the cast of Vashon High School’s production “A Spirited Manor,” but the almost 30 youth theater artists involved in the production braved a COVID-related delay and any other obstacles that stood in their way to finally, thrillingly bring the show to the VHS stage last weekend.

The Victorian-era thriller, written by Seattle author Kate Danley in the high-handed style of Penny Dreadful pulp literature, combines several genres of horror stories, incorporating haunted houses, ghosts, supernatural demons, and even an Agatha Christie-style whodunit into its theatrical mix.

That’s a lot to tackle in a six-week rehearsal project, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, but the thespians of Vashon High School nailed it, delivering everything from high physical comedy to moody meditation to bone-chilling jump scares as the show progressed.

Standouts in the cast included freshman Raena Joyce in the lead role of a grief-stricken widow lured into an ill-advised seance, and Nathan Campbell, as the debonair clairvoyant who mends her broken heart.

Another of the show’s standout actors, Ila Baldwin-Snell, had only stepped into her sizeable and very comedic role days prior to the show’s opening, filling in for another actor who wasn’t able to perform.

Baldwin-Snell’s confident stage presence was reminiscent of a young Katherine Hepburn — and I know this sounds over-the-top, but it’s true. It seemed Baldwin-Snell was not only born to play the part but had been rehearsing it for months.

But that kind of high-wire performance is only possible when an actor feels supported.

And once again, it was clear that director and theater teacher Andy James had worked to create an ensemble filled with trust, mutual respect and generosity instilled in all the players.

As was the case with VHS’s last production, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” James recruited local luminaries to participate in the production and mentor the players. These included Christopher Overstreet, who contributed keyboards to the production, Holly Boaz, who provided vocal instruction, and Lee Ann Hittenberger, who directed the sequences of stage combat.

The cast clearly thrived in this atmosphere of collaborative creation. It was exciting to see everyone on stage working together in such a tight way, listening closely to each other and moving in confidence to deliver all the chills and thrills the script demanded.

All the cast members of the show — Richard Barrett-Wood, Chris Wechkin, Caelen Clemmensen, Harper Hobson, Japhy Tsaitsenhoven, Phoebe Ray, Ari Officer, Bishop Townsend, Isaac Huff, Ian Ingalls, El Otto and Daalny Meyer — deserve the highest praise for their work.

But wait, there’s more.

“A Spirited Manor” also looked more stylish than any other high school show in recent memory, thanks to the work of its scenic, lighting, and costume designers, who are also all students at VHS.

The show’s multi-level set, by Nora Lavigueur, Simona Nelson and Devon Isakson-Bell, was both sturdy and stunning, providing the perfect impressionistic playground for the audience and actors to travel through the show’s many locations, which ranged from stuffy parlors to crowded street scenes to haunted dungeons.

The lighting, designed by Alex Ryan and operated by Ulysses Watson, was stellar as well, filling the stage with long, spooky shadows, and a palette that bathed some scenes in vivid color and plunged others into inky darkness.

And the Victorian-era costumes! Were they really created by the all-student team of Stephanie Blower, Clementine Strain, Lyra Shannon and Eden Guthery? What talent! Those sleeves! That fabric! The shoes! All perfect.

James and his high school thespians have truly formed a company of players, and I for one don’t intend to miss any of their shows. You shouldn’t either.