Dastardly villain, noble love and lots of belly laughs

mvoorhis@sierrastar.comApril 8, 2014 

The drama club students are busy searching for and gathering period-piece Western clothing and props while the sets are being constructed. They pretty much have their lines down — still rehearsals are going strong in preparation of their eighth annual dinner/theater fundraiser for the Chawanakee Academy drama club, which will take place Friday, April 25, at the Sierra Pines Church in Oakhurst.

This year's melodrama is Tillie the Teller (or The Great Bank Robbery). Tillie (Emma Johnson) loves Peter Strongvault (Chad Buckendahl), a stalwart guard at the Fidelity National Bank. But Oliver Wheedle (Ben Johnson), black-hearted president of the bank, has devious plans for Tillie. He has been stealing bank funds and threatens to blame the shortages on Tillie if she refuses to do his evil bidding. Strongvault comes to the rescue, capturing two desperate bank robbers after a life-and-death struggle, finally exposing Wheedle for the dastardly rascal he truly is.

While this is Johnson's fifth year performing on stage, it's only the second time he has played the villain role, which he prefers saying "the villain gets the best and funniest lines." It's clear that his love of twirling and manipulating the cape as he hides his jawline and arches his eyebrows is a second reason he favors this role. As for being on stage, Johnson added it comes quite naturally to him, especially since his "family always tells me I'm kind of a ham."

As Johnson emphasizes the word "ham," sixth-grader Amanda Page, 10, chuckles at his side. Page plays Suzie, a bank customer, in the melodrama, and a puppy in a comedic skit.

This is her third year performing. "It's fun ... I get to pretend to be someone else ... and I like making people laugh."

When asked which role she likes best — Suzie or puppy — like a true diplomat and seasoned actress, Page gave an enormous grin and said, "both."

"This is our only fundraiser," Becky Cairns, drama teacher and director of the production said. "The monies raised not only fund our drama club, but we try to help other campus groups and activities. This year, we gave out two scholarships — one to a graduating eighth grader and the other to a graduating high school senior."

Besides the melodrama, there will be several comedic sketches, along with a pre-show presentation by a small group of first-graders. There will also be a silent auction. Dinner (western-pulled pork) begins at 6 p.m., with showtime following an hour later.

Presale ticket prices are $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 years and under. Tickets at the door are $15.

Chawanakee Academy is a kindergarten-12 public school that is part of the Chawanakee Unified School District. The school offers alternative education, with high school students enrolled in independent studies, and students K-8 home-schooled.

Details or tickets: (559) 868-4200.

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