October 11, 2006

The Story of a High School Egg

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It’s a boy? It’s a girl? No. It’s an egg. Now imagine the parents’ surprise when the young egg-boy, whom they homeschool for obvious reasons, decides to venture out of the nest and take on the biggest challenge of his young egg-life: public high school.
“But we think you’ll learn so much more at home,” the mother insists.
“They’ll have a field day with you!” the father adds.
Of course, naming their child Benedict surely doesn’t help the situation, but clueless adults are nothing out of the ordinary in Dan Wolpow’s ’07 “Egg: The Musical,” a satirical take on high-school life from the point of view of a good-natured, helplessly romantic, 17-year-old egg.
The musical’s first act, which was presented in a workshop on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, concerns Benedict (John Allen ’07), or Ben as his two and only friends call him, and his crush on homecoming queen and all-around perfect student, Jaimee Diamond (Alex Viola ’10). After Ben helps her with a chemistry project, the two develop a friendship that in turn develops into romance, much to the disgust of Jaimee’s boyfriend, football captain and all-around asshole, Trent Bradford (Josh Burlingham ’08).
Trent, a stereotypical high school jock, delivers some of the show’s best lines, like when Jaimee asks him if he cares for her, and Trent replies: “Of course. You’re the hottest girl in the entire school.” The rest of the supporting cast is also strong, especially Ansel Brasseur ’08 as Rich the Janitor, who mentors Ben without giving him any practical advice whatsoever. “Nothing is as hard as it seems,” Rich counsels in just about every situation.
“Egg: The Musical” deals with the common high school experience of feeling excluded, while recognizing that everyone “on the inside” is completely out of his or her mind. It’s hard not to sympathize with Ben, who is not only forced to negotiate the social battlefield of adolescence, but also deal with unqualified teachers who can’t seem to take care of themselves, much less other people. For example, take Ben’s college guidance counselor, Mrs. Greenhorn (Anya Degenshein ’07). On the one hand, she seems to hold Ben’s future in the palm of her hand, and yet she can’t even remember his name. While many can attest to having a similar experience in high school, few can say that their college counselor extolled the virtues of suicide in song, which Ben has to endure. “Life is boring. Life is bland / Why not end it with your own hand?” Greenhorn suggests.
“While I often wish I could have attended one of those elite, Dead-Poet-Society-type prep schools, I wouldn’t have this story to tell,” Wolpow said. “My run-of-the-mill public high school wasn’t particularly terrible; it just wasn’t an environment conducive to a happy, wholly satisfying adolescence.”
No doubt drawing from personal experiences, Wolpow began writing the musical in Prof. Beth Milles’s playwriting class. Meanwhile, another student in the class, director Becky Wolozin ’08, recognized the potential in Wolpow’s work and proposed that they produce the musical together.
“Every scene and song that Dan [Wolpow] brought into class made me more excited about the musical. When the semester was over, I decided that I wanted to work on it,” Wolozin said, herself an accomplished student playwright, who last year won the Heermans-McCalmon Playwriting Contest for her one-act play, “Edith Piaf Saves the Day.”
Unlike other productions at the Schwartz Center, “Egg: The Musical” was entirely student-driven. Along with musical director, Justin Nisly ’06, Wolpow and Wolozin developed the musical over the course of a year. They then petitioned the theater department and received a paltry budget to help finance the workshop, a barebones preview of the unfinished work. Wolpow, whose senior spring is now split between dreaming about writing musical comedies for a living and wrestling with law school applications, still has to finish the second act.
“Now that Ben has the girl and a new-found popularity, I think it’s going to have a major effect on his ego. Also, the college deadlines are rapidly approaching for the seniors, and I want to explore that element a lot more in the second act. After that’s all done, and I spend some time really refining the music, maybe someone will be interested in bringing it to the stage again.”
While it’s unlikely that Cornell will get to see a finished product anytime soon, the workshop may prove to be a valuable precedent for the Schwartz Center, facilitating similar projects in the future.
“My hope is that this workshop will be the first of many for the theatre department, allowing other students with similar creative ambitions to have their work brought to life by dedicated actors and directors,” Wolpow said.