High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest at the Alley

Jarred Tettey as Paul, Daniel Velasco as Dara and Sabrina Ross as Keilee in Alley Theatre's production of High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest.
Jarred Tettey as Paul, Daniel Velasco as Dara and Sabrina Ross as Keilee in Alley Theatre's production of High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest. Photo by Lynn Lane
As the play begins, Dara, a high school senior, is trying to rally his troops who've suffered an unexpected, humiliating loss the previous year. It's not just the kids who feel a need to do better. Adults are here too, coming up with what they hope are new winning strategies.

Anyone think high school football is intense? Try high school theater.

In High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest, Cambodian-American playwright Vichet Chum sets his two-act comedy in his hometown of Carrollton. Right in the middle of all of Dara's efforts, new student Paul arrives and causes Dara to look at himself and his life in his Dallas suburb in new ways. When the high school team's coaches make what proves to be a controversial choice for a one-act play competition, divisions and disagreements in increasingly heightened pitch, follow.

Actor Daniel Velasco plays Dara, a role he has been with for quite a while now, beginning with a play reading series he was asked to do back in 2018. "We've done a bunch of iterations of it." The play was workshopped in the Alley's 2020 All New Festival and was supposed to premiere at the Alley in 2021 but COVID-19 interrupted those plans.

Velaso, who grew up in New York City and started acting at a very young age and was in plays throughout high school, describes his own high school theater experience as "just a great place to go after school. We're doing this fun thing with your friends while everyone else was off doing homework or regular sports teams."

He also was involved in the speech and debate circuit, which is also very present in this play. "It's loosely based on Vichet's high school experience in UIL and one-act play state competition which I bet a lot of our Texas audiences are familiar with."

Describing his character, he says: "He is the unofficial leader of the speech and theater team really just trying to get everybody to be their best. He tries to put everybody before himself. He's  still trying to figure out and grapple with who is is as a person. He he hasn’t quite accepted himself; he's still looking for that self-love. A new kid comes to town from New York and gets him to question everything about his life.

"I do love this play. It's such a special, heart-warming story about that special time in your life when you're in high school and you're just trying to figure out who you are. It's such a love letter to high school theater and the escape and magic and sanctuary that it provides to kids who need that outlet. Especially those kids who are a little different and don't really conform to all the norms of high school life."

Houston native Tiffany Nichole Greene directs the diverse cast of eight actors which includes two Alley company members: Melissa Pritchett and Todd Waite, as well as Ricardo Dávila as Rich, Sabrina Koss as Kailee, Mai Le (For Steve Wozniak, on His 67th Birthday, Alley All New Reading of High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest) as Allison, Kiaya Scott (Stages’ The Fantasticks and Little Shop of Horrors) as Sophie and Jarred Tettey (A Christmas Carol) as Paul, in addition to Velasco.

"It’s great being able to premiere this play here and have such a diverse cast of characters," Velasco says. "It's not specifically a Cambodian-American play. It definitely hits on all the little things we all experience growing up. From little remarks to people putting you in a box of where they think you should fit in, what that does to you as a kid. How it shapes you as you grow older."

Despite some of the themes, Velasco stresses that High School Play is "definitely a teen comedy influenced by all the teen rom-cons. It's just about these kids who are trying to live their best lives in high school and all the high jinks that ensue and trying to compete with each other and trying to be the best but also trying to navigate what these adults mean to them and how they're controlling their lives.

"They are so so serious about theater and how it's the most important thing in their lives without realizing that it might not just be the thing you do for the rest of your life."

Performances are scheduled for January 21 through February 13 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours required. Masks required covering nose and mouth when in the theater building. For more information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre,org. $30-$91. 
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