By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
In preparation for this weekend’s North Mississippi High School Drama Competition at Mississippi State University, Starkville High School will present “Beggar’s Opera” tonight at the SHS Theatre.
“It was a challenge with the costumes, the accent, the hair, the makeup and especially the fact that it’s a play within a play. That’s our first object to conquer, to make sure the audience understands that the beggars are putting on a play to whatever audience comes their way,” Mary Kate Hughes, who plays the police chief’s daughter, said. “It’s different from what Starkville High normally does, but it’s been a good challenge.”
“Beggar’s Opera” tells the story of a company of beggars who act out the tale of outlaw Captain MacHeath, who secretly marries the daughter of an underworld boss. Her family betrays him, and he is sent to prison. He is freed by the police chief’s daughter, only to be betrayed again and sentenced to death. However, the beggar actors dislike this unhappy ending and decide to switch it up a bit.
“This play was written in 1728 by a guy named John Gay and it was set up as an opera, but what he did was he took the popular songs of the day and put different lyrics in it,” SHS theatre director Carol Hairfield said. “The main theme of it was — it was sort of a social satire — ‘Why do the rich make the same crimes as the poor people, but the poor people go to jail, not the rich guys?’”
Even though the play is hundreds of years old, the theme and humor ring true today.
“I like that this is satire because it is very light-hearted and joking. Even though there is a girl that is five months pregnant, another girl whose husband, well, got that girl pregnant and most of the characters are trying to get the main character hanged. It’s dark, but then again, they laugh at it,” Lacy Claire Whitten said.
The play the SHS students will perform is an adaptation by Charles Jeffries and Jerry Knight because the contest requires the entire production to be done in 45 minutes for this week’s competition.
“We have to be able to put everything out there, get through the play and get everything cleaned up in 45 minutes or we’re disqualified,” Hairfield said.
A total of 18 high school groups from around northern Mississippi will participate in the competition throughout Friday and Saturday.
SHS will perform at 2 p.m. Friday at McComas Hall Theatre. Admission for the event is $7.
“What Starkville High is known for is pulling it together at the last minute. It may seem like a train wreck from the beginning to dress rehearsal, but in the end when the audience is there and the lights come up, we just pull it together and we’re a team,” Hughes said.
Tonight’s performance will begin at 7 p.m. at the high school theater. Admission is $5.