The Kid Who Talked To Penguins

In a high school auditorium in Northern Virginia a little boy, talking penguins and a whole lot of laughs — that’s what’s in store for those attending Chantilly High’s production of “The Kid who Talked to Penguins.” Show times are Friday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 23, at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 24, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door or via http://www.chantillyhsdrama.com. This children’s play is double cast and features a cast and crew of 60. “It’s about a young boy named Billy who protects penguins at the zoo from being picked on by a bully,” said Director Shannon Khatcheressian. “In exchange, they come to his house, in the middle of the night, and say they want to be his friends. They also tell him the winning numbers for the local lottery. The problem is that, when Billy tells everyone what happened, no one believes him.” Currently, the actors are busy rehearsing, and Khatcheressian says things are going well. “The kids worked hard over winter break to memorize all their lines,” she said. “And this is one of my favorite shows written by [Chantilly Theater Director] Ed Monk. It’s such a great comedy, truly written for the entire family. Adults could come to the show without little ones and still have a wonderful time, because the lines are so funny.” Portraying 6-year-old Billy is sophomore Adam Gaskins. “He’s a clumsy kid who tries to fit in,” said Gaskins. “He’s the outcast of his family. Since his sister and brother are a lead actress and a football star, he tries to live up to their reputations. He’s also defensive of himself, but very social — and he’s awestruck by seeing the penguins at his house, and talking.” Delighted to have the part, Gaskins said, “It’s my first lead role here, so it means a lot to me. And I like acting for children’s shows because I get to act big and goofy and have more fun with it than with a normal role. It’s also something I can jump into. I have two little cousins, two little sisters and lots of little kids in my neighborhood, so this makes me feel like I can see things from their point of view.” He expects the show to be a big hit with the audience and says children “will love the interactive hide-and-seek scene between them and the penguins. It’s not something that usually happens in plays.” Sporting a full penguin costume — complete with red bow tie, yellow webbed feet and a beak — sophomore Mohammad Abou-Ghazalah plays Norris the penguin. Each penguin also has a special accessory to correspond with his or her penguin personality, so Norris wears a big pair of glasses. “Out of the four penguins, I’m the geeky, nerdy one,” he said. “I keep getting them lost, and I’m a klutz, too. It’s a great role to play. It’s written in an excellent manner, and the personalities provided give you a new perspective toward penguins. We see the future, talk and fly and are super geniuses. And we see humans as inferior to us.” Abou-Ghazalah says the play contains humor for both children and adults, and audiences will laugh at the characters’ personalities, plus the jokes. All in all, he said, “It’s going to be a really fun play.” Portraying Billy’s Aunt Terry is sophomore Kelsey Monk. “She’s crazy, angry and very old-fashioned,” said Monk. “She has her own ideas about how people should act and children should be raised. She’s left in charge of Billy when his family goes out of town, so it’s two opposite personalities working together on stage.” She especially likes her role because her older sister Maggie played the same part previously, so “it’s cool to have it, too, and I get to yell and be crazy. You could do the most extreme things and still have this role work. You get to do so much with the lines.” The cast is using the same platforms Chantilly used for “A Christmas Carol.” But, said Monk, “We create the scenes with our acting and help the audience see what we see. It’s different from any other play they’ve ever seen and challenges their imagination.” Freshman Matt Calvert plays Skip, Billy’s older brother, the star of his high-school football team. “He’s this big, macho kind of dude — a typical football player — and kind of a dunderhead,” said Calvert. “He’s full of himself and puts up with his little brother, but sometimes picks on him.” Enjoying the role, Calvert said, “I’ve never played a jock before, so I get to really play it up. This is my first kids’ show, so I have to be really animated and completely over the top.” He described the play as “a really nice story with a great moral, funny lines and interesting characters. For example, the German therapist called in to help Billy with the penguins has his own, imaginary friend. The moral is that, growing up, you’re not going to be good at everything, but you’ll get better and smarter — and everybody’s special in their own way.” The stage manager is Amanda Lupone. “During rehearsals, I read the lines alongside the actors and give them a line if they need it,” she said. “And if anything’s messed up, I make a note and, at the end, we’ll go over it. During the show, I’ll be in the booth, giving sound and light cues, or helping out backstage, making sure everyone’s in their places.” “I love it,” said Lupone. “It’s a great experience working with everyone, and I’ve made some good friends. It also helps with my organizational skills — which helps with schoolwork and people skills; it just kicks in naturally now.” As for the play, she said, “The audience will love it. It has a lot of great actors and actresses and is a really good, family show.”

Among the cast of Chantilly High’s "The Kid who Talked to Penguins" are (from left) Alex Johnson, Mohammad Abou-Ghazalah, Adam Gaskins, Matt Manalel and Ben Zimmerman.

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