Teenagers in 2002 continue to relate to the powerful story of “Rebel Without a Cause.” You can see it the minute students gearing up to perform the play at Los Lunas High School step on stage to become their characters.
Director Doris Vialpando says her actors see aspects of their own world in the 1950s story made famous in the James Dean and Natalie Wood feature film.
“All of the students learn something by watching and performing the play,” she said. “They really see things they’re dealing with themselves.”
The tale begins when Jim Stark, a young man who has a history of stirring up trouble, moves to town. He soon runs into problems with the law, and several tragic events occur before Jim must reconcile what he has done to mend the relationship with his family.
The realities are much the same today as they were back in the 1950s, Vialpando says. “It is a story about love and the problems teens have with their parents. The characters deal with the issue of getting with the wrong crowd and the idea of how true love saves everything.”
Stage Manager Jessica Reynoso, who is a senior, said the cast loved playing teens from a different era. “Even though they can relate to the play, they like it because they get to be someone they’re not.”
Take for instance, Buzz, the tough-guy leader of the gang, played by senior Tim Montoya. The actor savors what he calls a very “physical role” before succumbing to a tragic death in the famous car wreck scene.
“He is the typical bad guy from a broken home. He takes a chance too much and gets paid for it,” Montoya says of his character.
“Something bad does happen. It brings reality to the play when Buzz dies. Everything is real. They realize they’re playing around with their lives.”
Plato is who Vialpando calls “the saddest character of all.” “He’s very contemporary. He can’t fit in. His parents have abandoned him. He’s trying so hard to be somebody, and no one wants him.”
The character of Plato, performed by Chris Walsh, starts carrying a gun as a result of his frustration. In a pivotal scene, the cop begs him to put the gun down. Plato almost decides to do just that, but at the last minute he tries to run away. The cop shoots him dead.
“I can relate with my character. I was never really the cool kid, neither was my character. This role is sort of poetic justice. His death affected everyone,” Walsh said.
The death of the two young men deeply affected the group of friends, Vialpando says. “They lost two of their friends right there, so close together. That scene, when these kids played it, I knew they were thinking about how powerful it was.”
The heroine, Judy Brown, played by Serena Martinez, finds true love with Jim Stark.
“It was nerve-racking to play Judy. She’s real complicated and keeps to herself until she meets Jim. Then she feels alive.”
By the end of the play, Jim, played by senior Demet Vialpando, no longer trapped by feelings of trying to get away and not belonging.
“Jim finds true love and a place he can be accepted,” he says.
“This is an unbelievable role to play,” Vialpando says of his character. “It’ll be a good note to end on. The rehearsals really brought everyone together. They went by quicker than any other play I’ve done.”
For a lot of students, this is their first “big play.” Besides the 27 roles in “Rebel Without a Cause,” nine students worked backstage on the set and props, along with four others in the tech booth.
“It has been more challenging training the underclassmen in the technology booth,” Vialpando says.
As assistant director, senior Kari Pyszko says working on the show has been a lot of fun. “It’s very stressful, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Many of the cast members are my close friends, and working with them has been so special, since it’s our last major play.”
Vialpando said, “Kari did really well as an assistant director. She took on the responsibility, and I was excited for her.”
About half of the cast is made up of seniors who are getting ready to leave LLHS and embark on the path to college or the world of work.
“Many of them are ready to go,” Vialpando says. “It’s hard for me to say good-bye. These are the ones who have stuck through it over the years, and they’ve helped teach younger students and mentor freshman.”
Vialpando, who has been teaching drama since 1994, does five to seven shows a year with “her kids.” Since the beginning, each year has seen more organization and performance growth.
“I’ve managed to build up props and connections with other drama teachers. I’ve come a long way over the years,” she says.
“During those first few years, I never sat to watch my students perform. I was too afraid of being new. Then, I moved to the technology booth to watch the show. Now, I get mad if I can’t see the kids perform.”