Play focuses on spelling drama |

Play focuses on spelling drama

by January Riddle
Special to The R-C

Chances are, you remember learning how to spell and the difficulties that subject brought you in school. The daily drills and weekly tests probably left some kind of mark. If you managed to excel at putting letters in the right order to form words, you may remember winning a spelling bee.

No matter what spectrum of scholarship you achieved, you will be able to relate to at least one of the characters in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Carson Valley Community Theatre’s upcoming production. Co-presented with the Douglas High School Theatre Department, Rebecca Fieldman’s coming-of-age-on-stage story offers a delightful collection of both recollections and familiar experiences, many set to William Finn’s music and lyrics.

It is a collection of words that form the backbone of this play. Words, sung and stated, are the reason for this wacky gathering. A spelling bee is, obviously, about words. But this play is not, well, totally about vocabularies. It is about overcoming shyness, fear, family idiosyncrasies, parental abandonment, and a host of other teenage growing up complications. It is about learning to believe in oneself (despite others’ ridicule). It is also about becoming an adult and taking chances on love and friendship.

Set in a high school gym and hosted, for the ninth year, by a former Putnam County Spelling Bee winner, Rona Lisa Peretti (Jenny Helton), this year’s contest features Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Skip Brown), a charm-challenged administrator of definitions and word pronouncer. Contestants include last year’s winner, Chip Tolentino (Levi Romero), and a newcomer to the event, Olive Ostrovsky (Alina Munsdeane), who does not have money for the entrance fee. Other entrants fill a typical adolescent scope of the peculiar, the belligerent, and the withdrawn.

The winner will go on to the National Spelling Bee. Achieving that goal involves some eccentric pneumonic devices, including Barfee’s (Mark Helton) “magic foot” and Schwarzy’s (Amara Brown) arm scribbling. In case of loser meltdown, Comfort Counselor Midge (Francesca Melander) stands by, ready to calm the unfortunate underdog as she counts down her community service hours.

This quirky cast ensemble is boosted by Rachel Sheinkin’s script’s ad-lib notes and audience volunteers, all of which add to Amy Sando’s directorial challenges, but make every performance as unique as each human’s personal development. Musical Director Rodger Banes accompanies the sometimes silly songs on his piano. Although this play is about some ageless angst and timeless frailties, it brings forward some contemporary themes and issues. Bullying, same-sex parenting, peanut allergies, and home-schooling are some of the modern wrinkles that furrow today’s brows. Chances are, you will relate as you remember.

The talented local performers include both adults and teens. Cast members include: Jenny Helton, Skip Brown, Mark Helton, Ryan Stockton, Levi Romero, Amara Brown, Mari Murillo, Francesca Melander, and Alina Munsdeane. The production owes thanks to a generous grant from Douglas County and is produced in collaboration with the Douglas High School Theater Department.

The 25 Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee performances take place at CVIC Hall, 1602 Esmeralda Ave. in Minden on March 20-22, and 27-29. Curtain on Friday and Saturday evenings is at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $15-$25 and available at, the CVCT website, or (775) 782-6622.