At Lumina Stage Company, young actors happily move up through the ranks. Sophia Varnai and Catherine Horowitz started out performing as young kids. Now they are co-directing their second summer production, a play by Lumina’s artistic director, David Minton.
“It’s really crazy, cause I did the show when I was 11, and here I’m co-directing,” said Varnai.
“Monsters” is the second installation in a play quartet, the first being “The Electric Cave.”
“I don’t do typical children’s scripts, which are usually for children 6, 7 and 8,” Minton said. “I wanted to create my own mythology with my own strange leanings in life.”
In this case, the “leanings” are in a small Midwestern town named Vortex City, where the only reporter is a high-school age girl named Joey Jinx.
“She has problems relating to people, but is all about objective journalism,” Minton said. Suddenly, she and the town are beset by imaginative monsters and political monsters. “The monsters are ourselves,” he said.
The actors range in age from 11-15. Meanwhile, their co-directors are not much older, being 19 and entering their sophomore year of college.
The playwright found inspiration in the classic movie monsters, such as Dracula, Frankenstein and mad scientists, the kind of black-and-white movies you can find on TCM. Everything in “Monsters” has a backdrop of songs from the 1950s, such as “My Little Runaway” and “My Boyfriend’s Back,” said Minton.
He was also inspired by the sci-fi films of the 1950s, dominated by the Red Scare. Movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” addressed international peace and avoiding nuclear annihilation.
Lest anyone think a play by the name “Monsters” is all about gloom, the playwright assures would-be audiences that it has humor.
“I always try to find something funny in everything, even in ‘King Lear,’” Minton laughed. After all, Chekhov called his plays (which some would consider sad and wistful) comedies.
The actors also break into fantasy songs, but not as in a musical; it is more like an odd balance between that and a straight play.
One of the challenges in directing or co-directing a Lumina summer show – this production being part of the Quest Theatre program – is simply logistics, said Horowitz. “There is relatively little rehearsal time, and there are many different characters in the show, so we have to do a lot of coaching, making sure everyone is active and engaged.
“Not everyone is in every scene, so when one of us is running scenes, the other is running lines,” Horowitz added. “We try to divide the responsibilities.”
The style of “Monsters” is special, Varnai pointed out. “All the characters are larger than life, and yet realistic, as in the old monster movies we’re playing homage to.”
If some of the young actors are unfamiliar with the inspirational movies, the co-directors help by connecting them to films they do know, like the contemporary “Wolf Man.”
Sometimes, Minton laughed, the oldest movie they have seen is from the 80s.
Part of the mission of Lumina – which presents Shakespeare and other classics as well as contemporary plays that focus on the beauty of language – is to break down the generational gap, said Horowitz.
There is also a buddy element to “Monsters.” Joey Jinx has one friend, a newcomer named Big Girl, who is kind of goofy. Their friendship is challenged, which is all the co-directors would reveal.
Lily Walker plays Joey Jinx, and Mia Levings is Big Girl.
“Monsters” runs Aug. 9 and 10 at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road. All performances are Pay-What-You-Can (with a request for a minimum of $5).
For show times and information, visit www.LuminaStudio.org.