Haven production hits close to home
Haven Middle School students take a bow at the end of their performance of The Blue House | Dave Kraus~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 9, 2012 6:14AM
EVANSTON — Los Angeles playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez originally brought a 90-page script of his ghost story play “The Blue House” to Haven Middle School last fall.
A prominent playwright with young audiences, the plan called for him to work with students, and fashion a new version of the play, which premiered in 2005 at Chicago’s Adventure Theater.
“As middle school students, they weren’t quite believing,” Principal Kathy Roberson said.
Yet true to his word Gonzalez worked with students, creating a new script and pared down and responded to “very, very extensive notes,” from the student performers.
“He made a bunch of edits and changes to the script and we ended up with this,” Roberson said Nov. 1 after the first performance. “Amazing.”
Gonzalez’s play tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who lives in a Chicago neighborhood with a ghost house that appears every blue moon.
It touched on loss, prejudice, forgiveness and hope — themes students could identify with, said Betsy Quinn, longtime Haven drama teacher and the school’s Arts Department head.
Just as students began working on the play this fall, Dajae Coleman, a student at Haven last year, was the unintended victim in a fatal shooting that rocked the community.
Students dedicated the play to Coleman, Tristan Shambee, another former Haven student and a drowning victim the year before, and friends and loved ones in the tradition of Dia de los Muertos, which was celebrated last week.
Following the opening night performance, several students spoke of how the play awoke feelings about the loss of loved ones.
“The students understood it was more than a story,’’ Quinn said.
The production involved significant collaboration. In just a week, student crews working with Northwestern set designer Jeff Sachs extended the stage and built a trap door for one of the play’s many scenes.
Several Northwestern students — senior Rebecca Domain among them — helped coach the students
Evanston Township seniors Timerra Dunnock and Bryanna Adams, and Johnetta Davis, also a senior at Whitney Young, all helped out. All had younger siblings in the production.
“I love the way a play can bring a community of people together,” said Rives Collins, a professor in Northwestern’s theater department who also provided help. “The college students have learned so much in the process of this.”
The production, made possible by the support of the Haven PTSA, had its own mariachi band.
Carlos Jimenez, Jr., a teacher in the Haven Spanish department, brought other professional musicians, Carlos Jimenez Sr., his father, Oscar Bedoya, and Jose Gonzalez to play lilting background music.
Even with all that help, the production was run exclusively by eighth-grade assistant directors.
Gonzalez acknowledged the support he received after the Nov. 1 curtain call.
Though the play is unpublished, once it is published he plans to credit ‘‘all the young artists,” from the Haven community who helped make it possible, he said.