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ConVal

Irving’s ‘Prayer’ brought to life

  • ConVal Drama will present "A Prayer for Owen Meany" on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Lucy Hurlin Theater at the ConVal High School in Peterborough.
  • ConVal Drama will present "A Prayer for Owen Meany" on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Lucy Hurlin Theater at the ConVal High School in Peterborough.
  • ConVal Drama will present "A Prayer for Owen Meany" on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Lucy Hurlin Theater at the ConVal High School in Peterborough.
  • ConVal Drama will present "A Prayer for Owen Meany" on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Lucy Hurlin Theater at the ConVal High School in Peterborough.
  • ConVal Drama will present "A Prayer for Owen Meany" on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Lucy Hurlin Theater at the ConVal High School in Peterborough.
  • ConVal Drama will present "A Prayer for Owen Meany" on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Lucy Hurlin Theater at the ConVal High School in Peterborough.
  • ConVal Drama will present "A Prayer for Owen Meany" on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Lucy Hurlin Theater at the ConVal High School in Peterborough.

When ConVal Drama Director Jason Lambert was searching for his next show, he turned to an adaptation by well-known New England author John Irving.
“In growing up around here, I was a huge fan of John Irving, and was excited about discovering him around high school age. I was looking for a meaningful, fun, and engaging story for the kids to get into and figure out how to translate to the stage.”
Lambert had to choose between two Irving adaptations – “The Cider House Rules,” a story of a young doctor-in-training who leaves the orphanage where he was raised to see the world and “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” story of John Wheelwright and his best friend, the diminutive and extraordinary Owen Meany. It was Owen Meany that won the day.
“The novel is epic and sprawling and a little overblown and wholly entertaining,” said Lambert. “All of the characters are very brightly colored, with Owen leading the pack.”
The story revolves around the narrator, John Wheelwright, the well-to-do son of one of the town’s historical families, and Owen Meany, the permanently small and squeaky-voiced son of a quarry owner. John and Owen make their way through adolescence, searching for John’s biological father and Owen’s true purpose in life, all the way to both men’s participation in the Vietnam war.
Since the play covers a long range of time, and shows the two main characters during radically different stages in their lives, it’s a tough piece to pull off, said Lambert.
“You really have to surrender yourself to whatever happens, because sometimes because of humor and sometimes because of design, there are a lot of times you’re going to be surprised what happens next.”
A lot of the play is grounded in John, the narrator, who will be portrayed by Peter Salera, 17, of Temple. He was chosen to complement Thayer Taft, 14, of Francestown, who was chosen to play the part of the more dynamic and colorful character of Owen, said Lambert.
“In some ways, he’s the least caricatured person in the play,” said Lamber of the character of John. “He’s the grounding force, and the one that shares the story with us.” While a lot of dramatic things happen around him, for the most part, John is just a normal man and in a way, a representation of the audience of the play. “When you dig a little deeper, the things that he does and questions he asks are things we all ask along the way, which is a charm of Irving’s style. Under the caricature there is a fair amount of truth.”
For most of the students, this was their first introduction to the story, said Lambert. Some like Erik Lakus, 18, of Antrim, noted that they like not having that context, so that they can focus on what the story is as a stage performance.
Thayer Taft said he has started the book, and though the stage adaptation has had to distill the story and cut certain elements, the core of the book — its major themes and symbols — are all still expressed.
Elizabeth Taft, 18, of Francestown, the play’s assistant director, noted that one of the aspects of the play she enjoyed most was the setting. The play is set in the fictional town of Gravesend, N.H., and is portrayed as a small town similar to those the actors reside in.
“I grew up in a small New Hampshire town, and we talk about how it’s so picturesque and there’s so much history, but I think in Owen Meany they talk about how there’s an ugly side to that history — these divisions that can be petty and harmful,” she said.
Daniel Frehner of Peterborough noted that the school had recently put on a production of West Side Story, which is set in about the same time period, but doesn’t give the same sense of the era that “A Prayer for Owen Meany” does.
“I think this one says so much more,” said Frehner. Particularly focused on the small town aspects, where an the play touches on tensions between different town churches, the exclusion of the town atheist or the treatment of an unwed mother. “You get much more of a feel for what the ’60s were like. I think it expresses it in a really powerful way.”
And although the play has a gritty side, dipping into themes of being an outsider, and touching on social-political issues with the enlistment of Owen and John during the Vietnam war, the play also has a strong message of faith and hope. While John struggles with his faith, Owen holds a firm belief that despite his differences — indeed perhaps because of them — he is an instrument of God.
Lakus, who has several roles in the play, noted that he connected with the play’s depiction of faith. “I really liked the moral and religious themes. Working on this play, I feel I have a slightly better grasp on why someone would follow a specific religion or be religious at all,” he said. Moriah Pabo, 14, of Dublin, agreed, saying that one of the most powerful scenes in the play to her is a part where Owen compares his faith to knowing that a statue of the Virgin Mary is there, despite it being too dark to really see it.
“That’s what faith is to Owen, and I think that’s an extremely good explanation of what faith really is. I, personally, have struggled with what faith really is, and that really has helped me,” said Pabo.
Shows are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Lucy Hurlin Theatre at ConVal High School. The show will run 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 20 minute intermission. The show is recommended for ages 13 or older. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors and are available by calling 924-3869.

Update: A President's Day evening performance has been added to make up for the snow day last Thursday: Monday, February 17 at 7:00 pm.

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