Calaveras High School (CHS) enjoyed the success of its spring play, “Failure: A Love Story” last week with a moving return to the stage at Calaveras Performing Arts Center, after a two-year absence due to Covid. Last year, CHS drama students (and some alumni) performed “Oklahoma” outdoors, rather than forgoing another season.
This year’s cast and crew have reunited for four successful performances of the unusual drama, which follows a family through tragedy, love, death and time. After the final curtain of Sunday’s performance, CHS drama teacher and director Ann Mazzaferro tearfully addressed the cast and crew, praising them for their helpfulness and kindness to one another. others, as well as for their hard work on the series. Mazzaferro told the students, “We don’t know how much time we have…and you’ve made the most of it.
The cast included Abbee Wernick, Jolee Aleshire, Jordan Barry, Nate DeYarmon, Michael Barci, Cora Heusel, Kyra Zeugin, Scarlett Guerero Snyder, Dharma Devine, Emma Darmsted, Celeste Yeaman, Tyler Squires and Kirstianna Cox. Calista Randolph served as stage manager for the show, with assistant stage manager Ariana Ramirez. The lighting design was done by guest artist Katie Duquette, whom Mazzaferro also praised for “building the lightscape” and “figuring out” the theater’s lighting board.
Mazzaferro told the Enterprise, “’Failure: A Love Story’ was a difficult play to direct. …Technically, it’s quite complex, and it requires every actor to be on their game.” The director said she chose this piece because it “felt like the right story to bring to our community, and that grounded us in a sense of deep gratitude to be back in our home, doing the work we love.”
The play, written by Phillip Dawkins and produced by special arrangement with Playscripts, Inc.,
is described as “A magical fable where, in the end, the power of love is far greater than any individual’s successes or failures.”
It tells the strange story of the Fail family who live near the Chicago River and own a clock repair shop. There are four Fail children – three daughters named Nelly (Jordan Barry), Jenny June (Jolee Aleshire) and Gerty (Abbee Wernick), and an adopted son named John N. (Nate DeYarmon).
Each of the three Fail sisters die tragically, all in 1928, while an unlucky young man named Mortimer Mortimer (Michael Barci) manages to fall in love with all three of them, but does not marry any of them before their untimely demise.
Wrought with quirky, slightly morbid humor, the story follows the Fail siblings through deep disappointments and moments of joy, as each looks to the future with hopes and dreams that never come true. Nelly, the youngest and the first to die, is a bubbly character who wants nothing more than to be an actress and marry her love, Mortimer Mortimer. Jenny June, the second daughter, is a confident and exuberant young woman who aims to be the first competitive lake swimmer to cross Lake Michigan. She also falls in love with Mortimer, after the tragic death of her younger sister on their wedding day.
After Jenny June disappears in Lake Michigan just yards from her goal, older sister Gurty comforts Mortimer over the loss of his second fiancée. Gurty, however, longs for Mortimer in secret until she is on her deathbed, where she announces her love and Mortimer realizes he loved Fail’s oldest daughter.
Meanwhile, “strange bird” John N. becomes a veterinarian and has better luck communicating with dogs, birds, and a ball python than with humans.
Mortimer and John N. open a veterinary hospital in honor of the deceased sisters and work there together until old age.
With rotating backdrops of dozens of clocks, a Chicago river scene, and a cozy living room setting, the play kept audiences engaged through its dizzying timelines and complex emotional landscape.
The heart of the story lies in a line repeated in the play, first by a dying dog to its owner John. N., then by John N. to the unlucky lover Mortimer: “Just because something ends doesn’t mean it wasn’t a big hit.
The same can be said for the play, which featured several CHS seniors who are expected to graduate this year. Director Mazzaferro handed out roses to each of the cast and crew, saving the seniors for last and hugging them in tears before saying, “I love each of you for who you are and what you you will become.”
Their work isn’t done yet, as the theater department still has a play in the works for this spring. “Hello Dolly,” an award-winning Broadway musical, will premiere in late April, from April 28 to May 1.