The cast of Defying Gravity acts out a bar scene during rehearsal. The play, performed by the McNary drama department, opens Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. (KEIZERTIMES/Derek Wiley)

The cast of Defying Gravity acts out a bar scene during rehearsal. The play, performed by the McNary drama department, opens Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. (KEIZERTIMES/Derek Wiley)

By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

McKinley Friesen is feeling existential as the McNary drama department opens its 2016-17 season Nov. 2-5 with Defying Gravity, a play that examines the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion through the experiences of the teacher, who died in the crash, and her daughter.

Friesen, a senior at McNary, plays the daughter, Elizabeth. One line in the play that has stuck with her isn’t even her own but comes from Claude Monet, an impressionist painter who died in 1926 but finds his way into the present day for a quest of his own.

“There’s a line that Monet says that he’s never seen the earth from any higher than a bell tower,” Friesen said. “It’s interesting how far we’ve come as a human race and how we’re constantly reaching for more and how that evolves in different time periods. People in Monet’s time were just trying to see higher than a bell tower but in this time period it’s trying to get normal people into space.”

The play weaves through time going back from life on the day of the crash to twenty years after Elizabeth has lost her mother.

“It’s interesting that she’s (Elizabeth) both a child and adult, kind of mixing those and blurring the line between those,” Friesen said. “It’s been an interesting challenge.”

Friesen is also enjoying the different movement pieces of the show.

“There’s a part where I basically get lifted up like a cheerleader,” she said. “It’s been interesting to rehearse that. There’s a scene where I’m a little kid lost in a grocery store but instead of grocery store aisles, all the other characters on stage make the aisles with their arms so they are moving as I move and I get even more lost.”

The teacher is played by McNary junior Bella Fox, who grew fond of the part as she memorized a monologue for auditions.

“I really fell in love with it,” Fox said. “I really got into it during auditions. It’s a unique story but it’s not very talked about.”

Fox went to YouTube to research the teacher, Christa McAuliffe, watching interviews of her students.

“She’s a really bubbly, happy character,” Fox said. “Her students just seemed to love her so then I started looking at my teachers that I loved and their bubbly and interactive people. I’m a lot like that, I think, so it was easier for me to find my place. I definitely looked at my teachers and how they acted.”

McNary senior Ryver Nakayoshi has been cast as Monet, who he says is nothing like him.

“He’s a watcher, someone who is out of place, obviously, and leaves remarks on the characters when he’s talked to but doesn’t really take a step to talk to anybody but Elizabeth,” Nakayoshi said. “That is different from me because I’m obviously a very interactive person and whenever I see somebody I talk to them so it’s really hard to play a restrained character.”

But Nakayoshi is enjoying the oddness of the show.

“This show enticed me because, for lack of a better term, it’s just weird,” he said. “And I mean that in the best way possible.”

The rest of the cast includes Madelyn Hurst and Josiah Henifin, playing Betty and Ed, a retired couple who drive their Winnebago across the country to see the launch; Ashton Thomas, playing C.B., a NASA mechanic and Annie Purkey, who portrays a bartender named Donna.

Defying Gravity opens Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Ken Collins Theater with additional shows through Saturday, Nov. 5. A matinee is Saturday at 2 p.m. All tickets are $5 and available online at  mcnarytheatre.weebly.com or at the door.

“We’re looking to get a big crowd out,” said Dallas Myers, McNary drama director. “The kids will always preform better with a bigger crowd and the straight shows are just as good as the musicals. I’m really happy with this one. We’re doing some cool things movement wise with it, which I’m really excited about. I’m pumped to see them do it. I’m interested to see how they’ll react when a crowd is here and a crowd reacts.”

The show is rated PG-13 for strong language.

“It’s not for lewd purposes,” Myers said. “There’s some language in it that we couldn’t get permission to edit out. It’s nothing that you wouldn’t hear in a PG-13 movie. There’s no sex or anything. It’s a real tame PG-13. There’s one time a character says something and he even apologizes for saying it.”

Fox said there’s something in the show for everyone.

“It’s got everything, the love that I share with my daughter, the love of a couple, and worries and doubts, just an array of emotions and I think it will leave the audience feeling something special. That’s what I hope they will take away from it.”