Monday night outside the Blue Springs High School auditorium, Max Doctor – dressed neatly in houndstooth standing next to a his cast mate Sam Moore inexplicably donning helmet and cape – talked frankly about what was really going on in the show.
"Basically, I’m just really annoyed," Doctor said. "Everyone’s really annoying, and I hate being around them."
Relax. Doctor was just getting into character for his part in this weekend’s upcoming musical, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
The play is as you might have guessed about a spelling bee, which at first glance doesn’t look like it’s going to make great dramatic material until you’re actually presented with who and what is on stage. From there, a series of very pressing questions arise like, are we really seeing one contestant – an endearingly nervous wreck conveyed by Devin Abbot and his spastic delivery – spell out words with his foot?
And, is that really stressed-out looking adolescent girl – an overachiever perfectly executed by Allie Goss – even old enough to be wearing a jacket with such prominent shoulder pads?
And, why is Moore wearing a helmet and khakis with what appears to be a solid strip of velvet woven in?
"He’s so crazy and lovable to a fault. He’s really random and very unique," Moore said of his character, adding there was a lot of random and crazy he could personally bring to a role like that.
Those are two words that define the show’s aesthetic that can at any moment break from the grilling pressure of the spelling bee itself to flashbacks that involve unseen characters, to a full dance routine that ends with a can-can and a stage lighting arrangement that would make David Bowie blush.
These are all fantasies and emotional side roads taken by the show’s coterie of unusual geniuses: a gifted speller in overalls played by Harper Palmer, a strict taskmaster played by Katie Riggs and an exacting boy scout played by Max Hill.
As a foil to the various dysfunctional contestants, Doctor’s character is locked into the other extreme. He’s unflappable in face of his contestants’ quirks and recklessly displays his own flaws: the polite-yet-barely-restrained impatience of the executive class garnished with the occasional off-color or otherwise insensitive remark.
The other half of the judging panel is an equally unflappable professional toe-stomper played by Lexi Poindexter, a dramatic synonym to Doctor’s irreverent straight man. Her character is a straight woman with a penchant for making unflattering remarks in place of proper introductions as the contestants are about to take the mic.
"Mr. Coneybear makes his own clothes," Poindexter deadpanned with a faux-serious raise of the eyebrows.
"I sure do," Moore replied in character with a foppish shrug and an inexplicable yet unimpeachable and audible open-mouthed sigh.
Make no mistake, this is weird stuff. But you’ll like it.
The Blue Springs High School Players will perform "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" this weekend. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. with curtain call following at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $7 for students.