With Halloween looming and the associated paraphernalia already on display in stores as well as some homes, Montgomery Playhouse (MP) is staging a ghost story. “The Canterville Ghost,” Marisha Chamberlain’s 2004 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1887 novella about an eccentric family that moves into an old mansion with a resident ghost, runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 1 at the Arts Barn.
At the helm of the production is Director Naomi Ratz, a North Potomac resident who grew up in Silver Spring. The teacher of drama and other arts genres at Potomac’s Winston Churchill High School since 2006 is “delighted that the performing arts have continued to be such a big part of my life.”
Ratz shared some details of her background and this production.
When did you decide that arts education would be your direction in life?
I have been involved in plays in school since I was very young, but we never had a theater program at my private school; my dream, from childhood, was to graduate college, return to my private school and build a theater program there. I majored in secondary education, theater and English at the University of Maryland and nurtured my goal from childhood. Though I wasn’t involved in theater in college, I was actively involved in both a dance troupe and an a cappella group.
Was your family supportive? Did you have role models/inspirations along the way?
My parents met in the Zamir Chorale in Boston in the 1970s, so they were very supportive of my artistic endeavors. They served as musical inspirations for me and showed me how music could be woven into everyday life. Also, Professor Scott Richards at the University of Maryland served as a mentor for me as I learned the art of directing; I still use his notes when I direct shows.
Have you acted or done other kinds of theater as well? What was the first play you directed?
In high school, I had ensemble roles in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Return to the Forbidden Planet.” Beginning in junior year, I began getting cast in larger roles in both “Brigadoon” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” In college, between the dance troupe Avirah and the a cappella group Kol Sasson, I would perform for an audience at least once a week. The first play I directed was Churchill High School’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
Have you worked with MP, or other community theater groups before?
This summer has been my “Summer of MP.” I performed as Arezoo in the MP one-act “A Search for Hope” and I’m excited to stage “The Canterville Ghost.” Previously, I had the unique opportunity to direct the premiere staged reading of “Weiner: The Musical” by my friend Beth Karp, which was produced by the Foundation for Jewish Women’s Arts and Letters. My first foray into community theater was with Rockville Musical Theatre in their 2012 production of “Baby!”
How does working with high school students differ from and/or correspond with what you are doing with MP?
There are many similarities in directing a show, whether it is with adolescents or with adult actors. I will say that this experience with MP and with my Canterville cast has been delightful; each actor brings so much raw talent and so much passion to his or her performance, it’s a real pleasure to watch. Ironically, two of my cast members are current Churchill students (Areya Campbell-Rosen and Mo Shokoohi) with whom I have worked before, and I take great pride seeing them holding their own on stage with their community theater peers.
Why was this play chosen, and how will your interpretation differ and/or correspond with others?
“The Canterville Ghost” had been selected by MP as part of the Art Barn’s season in an effort to offer an array of “family friendly” productions. My proposal to direct the show had been based on my experience directing a different playwright’s version, so I had to do some adapting to Marisha Chamberlain’s script. That said, I think our rendition–like Wilde’s original serial–shows a clear contrast between the Americans and the Brits and highlights provocative characters who are all larger than life.
Were you involved in the audition process, and have you worked with any of the cast members before? How do you assess the cast’s potential?
I and the MP production team–Assistant Director Loretto McNally and Producer David Jones–were involved in auditions, held over two nights at the Arts Barn which drew out some very talented actors. Of the cast, I had worked with Areya and Mo at Churchill, but the rest of the cast and I were strangers before the show. Some of the actors have had long careers with MP and with Maryland community theater, and others are new to the community stage; it’s a really nice mix of experience.
What can theatergoers expect from this production?
First and foremost, I want theatergoers to have fun. The characters are fun and the story and its situations are fun; there are many jokes and laugh lines, and I hope people pick those up. I believe there is value in this play because it asks the question, “Why can’t we all just get along?” but it does so in Oscar Wilde’s classically sardonic way. We have been working to highlight both the humorous elements of the story as well as its humanist message, and I hope audiences walk away having both enjoyed themselves and feeling good about humanity.
In partnership with Montgomery Playhouse, Arts on the Green presents “The Canterville Ghost” from Sept. 15 through Oct. 1, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg. Admission is $20, $12 for ages 14 and younger. This show is recommended for ages 7 and older. Visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov or call 301-258-6394. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.