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Armstrong Community Theater takes a skewed look at the classics

Just when we thought we were familiar with beloved classics such as "Romeo & Juliet," "King Arthur" and "Phantom of the Opera," Armstrong Community Theater's latest comedy invites us to think again.

In Craig Sodaro's "Crumpled Classics," being staged today through Saturday at Worthington Civic Center, artistic license runs rampant when a high-school English class is invited to act out what they read.

Literature never will be the same.

The biggest challenge they face, cast members say, is not laughing at their own lines.

It's a presentation to which everyone can relate, first-time director Emily Younkins of South Buffalo says. "All of us have had to sit through English-lit classes and are familiar with these classic stories (which also include "Frankenstein" and "Sherlock Holmes" in this production). What the audience will discover is a new and humorous way of looking at these classics," she says.

"Romeo & Juliet," for example, is set in a fast-food restaurant, and a high-school lab doubles as the set for "Frankenstein."

A large and strong cast of Armstrong Community Theater veterans and newcomers is bringing it all to life, says Younkins, who is enjoying directing.

"My approach is kind of a mixture of techniques from directors I have worked with in the past. I have learned so much in the four seasons I have been involved with ACT. It just seemed like it was time to use that information to help the theater," she says.

She is winning rave reviews from her cast.

In their opinion

"Emily is working so hard to make this production fantastic. She and the cast are absolutely amazing," says Anna Wilson of Sarver, who is making her debut with the company. "I want people to be driving home replaying their favorite parts of 'Crumpled Classics' over and over again."

The experience won't be easily forgotten, says Tricia Thompson of Kittanning, whose roles include Abigail, the student playwright.

"I hope to convey that the classics can be interpreted in many different ways, and no matter what you take from it you can learn something new," she says.

The "contagious energy" of the cast facilitates that learning process, says Sarah Claypool of Worthington, who portrays Juliet and Jasmine, the student director. "What we're saying or doing is just as funny to us as it is to the audience, but we can't laugh, which is hard," she says.

Its simplicity is what makes it shine, says Troy Dinga of Manor Township. "With slapstick, situational comedy, and an inordinate amount of plain silliness, this show is a riot for anyone," he says.

Hannah Younkins of South Buffalo finds the flexibility of the show and the opportunity to play multiple parts appealing. "It's challenging to develop different characters at the same time, but it helps you gain a better perspective."

It also is cast almost entirely with teenagers and young adults, Dinga says, noting he believes that helps build stronger communication between the actors.

At 23, Karissa Lloyd of Vandergrift says she finds herself one of the older cast members. She plays Mrs. Collins, the English teacher in charge of the class drama.

"I had so many great English teachers, several of which were also involved in theater, so I think their behavior really helped me get a feel for my character," she says. "It doesn't hurt that my best friend and roommate was a student teacher, so I got a feel for the behind the scenes of a teacher's mind."

She feels "Crumpled Classics" has "just the right amount of comedy and drama."

In addition to being entertaining, says Chante Nee of Sarver, who plays the sarcastic and quick-witted Ursula, it's also a family-friendly show.

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Additional Information:

Armstrong Community Theater

What: 'Crumpled Classics'

When: 7:30 p.m. today-Saturday; doors open 7 p.m.

Where: Worthington Civic Center (former Worthington High School), 214 E. Main St. Ext., Worthington

Admission: $8

Details: 724-297-3228; online . Tickets on sale at the door and at the Quality Inn Royle, Butler Road, West Kittanning; Baer Beauty, Fourth Avenue, Ford City; and Worthington Community Library in Worthington Civic Center Complex.

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