Image by Janet McMillan appeared in The Milwaukee Record
For those of us with kids, the grade school play is usually a combination of parental pride and teeth-grating nostalgic civic lesson and/or Bible study. Not so at Milwaukee, WI’s Highland Community School where super cool drama teacher Barry Weber has written and produced Judy Plays with Fire, a love letter to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks and other Lynchophilia.
The play has all the hallmarks of the director–red curtains, strobe lights, smoke machines, a Badalamenti-esque score–along with a backwards-speaking character in a red suit, two earnest and upstanding detectives, lumberjacks, rabbits, mysterious people in white masks, a Log Lady-like character who talks to a Slinky, and a middle America town called “Centerville” that, like Laura Palmer, is “full of secrets.” One character mimes Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” into a LED wand–shades of Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet. Character names like Mr. Frost and the MacLachlans nod to the creators and actors behind Twin Peaks. The entire cast is played by 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, and apart from Mr. Weber, the production is crewed by Highland students as well.
This isn’t Weber’s first go at pushing the boundaries of school theater. His student theater group put on 2014’s ZERO, a cyberpunk tale, and a post-apocalyptic zombie production in 2010 called Penguin Attack.
The production got the attention of the Milwaukee Record who sent reporter Matt Wild out to see the three performance run that finished last Friday. He even gave it a bit of a Variety-style review, saying that
“In the case of Judy, (Maeve) Haley is terrific as the inquisitive Cooper surrogate, though diminutive CJ Young steals the show as the scheming Mr. Frost. Whether he’s barking orders to his flunkies or lording over his animatronic house band, Young—who had to take time off from acting two years ago due to conflicts with basketball practice—imbues his character with a surprising amount of gravitas and menace.”
Matt Wild also talked to Weber, who spoke of his desire to give kids more challenging works.
“I want to make sure that when I write the scripts there are no ‘trees,’” Weber says, referencing grade school plays that often give students thankless roles as inanimate objects. “I want to write the kind of plays that as a kid I would have really wanted to do. I certainly didn’t know who David Lynch was when I was a kid, but I’m sure I would have really enjoyed it.”
No video has surfaced yet to match the intriguing production stills, but we’re on the lookout. In the meantime, how well do you know Judy?
David Lynch Falls in Love: A Classic Scene From Twin Peaks
The Paintings of Filmmaker/Visual Artist David Lynch
Watch David Lynch’s Hotel Room: The Complete Miniseries Featuring Harry Dean Stanton, Griffin Dunne, and Crispin Glover (1993)
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills and/or watch his films here.
Here is some video footage of the JUDY PLAYS WITH FIRE dress rehearsal!
Marvellous. Keep up the good work.