When eight high school students accidentally kill a classmate, they have no choice but to cover it up…right?
This November, Columbia High School’s (CHS) famed Parnassian Society considers this question in their presentation of Dennis Kelly’s DNA, a dark comedy exploring morality and human nature through teenage eyes.
“[The play] highlights how human instinct does not always take us to positive places,” says James Dyer, director of the CHS Parnassian Society. With the help of George Rem Johannsen, a fellow English teacher and theater enthusiast, Dyer is excited to take the helm and leave his mark on the Parnassian Society.
Dyer chose DNA for his directorial debut. This deeply impactful play calls audiences to engage with the controversial material and consider their personal morals. Since its founding in 1895, tackling uncomfortable scenarios through theatrical expression has been at the heart of Parnassian Society productions. Long-time directors Dr. Janet Bustrin and her husband Stephen Stubelt stepped down at the end of last year after leading Parnassian since 2002. Dyer hopes to continue their legacy of thought-provoking performances.
“Parnassian has a wonderful, rich history, and it is an honor to be a part of such a glorious tradition,” says Dyer. “It is a great opportunity to do some theater with a really talented group of students.” He believes that telling stories through theater is an important educational opportunity, allowing both students and community audiences to “engage with, learn about, and create ideas relating to the world around them.”
Participants praise the Parnassian Society as a space where they feel free to express themselves and explore the world of performance. “I feel comfortable to take risks and work off of the other people on stage. I couldn’t be more grateful for our amazing director, producer, and crew,” said cast member Sabrina Mannion (‘24), who plays the character of Leah in this year’s performance. Dyer fosters this welcoming environment by beginning rehearsals with warm-up improvisation and drama games. “[It’s] super fun and a great way to get the rehearsal jitters out,” added cast member Ash Barton (‘24),
who will be taking on the role of Richard.
Barton added that Dyer has transitioned smoothly into directorship. “This year has definitely been different,” said Barton, “but [Dyer] has done an admirable job at taking over, and it honestly feels like he’s been doing it forever.” Dyer’s approach to direction allows students to explore each character, giving them the freedom to develop the roles as they see fit. “I love that he’s having the cast have some suggestions on how the production turns out while also imputing his own vision,” said Mannion.
Even with a new director, the cast and crew dynamic has stayed the same. “One of the main reasons I keep coming back is because of how much fun I have,” shared Soph Irfani (‘25), this year’s lead stage manager. “Not only have I gained experience with the production, but I also became friends with the current returning cast members.” Barton
reveals that the intimate environment “gives you a chance to really connect with every one of the cast mates” and that after months of rehearsing, they truly become a family.
Cast and crew alike are excited to showcase their hard work and share the play’s provocative message. “I hope they take something away from the commentary on toxic relationships, immorality, and the greater good. I know I have!” says Mannion. Irfani adds, “I think the audience will be really moved.”
This thought-provoking production is sure to wow audiences with its complexity and suspense. Will the characters turn themselves in and confess? Will their cover-up succeed? How far will they go to survive? What is the “right” thing to do
What would you do?
DNA is scheduled to appear at Columbia High School’s Black Box Theater on November 16th, 17th, and 18th at 7:30 p.m. and on November 19th at 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available at showtix4u.com/events/Columbia.
Audrey Noguera is a junior at Columbia High School (CHS) and a proud South Orange resident. She is the Student Life editor of the CHS newspaper, The Columbian, and first-time author of the children’s book Find Your Forest.
Read more about The Parnassian Society’s production of DNA here: Columbia High School Parnassian Society To Present Fall Drama ‘DNA’