Woodson High’s new play, “The Trials,” is set in the near future, when the climate emergency is worsening and all adults who’ve adversely impacted the climate are put on trial. The jurors deciding their fates are ages 12-17 and must make difficult decisions. But are they delivering justice or taking revenge?
The curtain rises Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 7, at 2 and 7; Sunday, Oct. 8, at 6 p.m.; and Thursday-Friday, Oct. 12-13, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and up, pay what you can, at the door or via wtwdrama.org. Recommended for ages 13 and above due to strong language. A free community discussion and Q&A session will follow the Oct. 8 show.
The play features a cast and crew of 60, and Woodson is the first high school in Fairfax County to bring it to the stage. “I’m always reading plays written for young people by the National Theatre in London,” said Director Chris Rushing. “I had my students read scenes from this one, and they were excited about it.
“We have a really diverse group of actors, from freshmen to seniors, and it’s an emotionally hard play. It’s straightforward and has heavy themes that we want to do really well. And I love it when students can play students written to be complex and nuanced characters their own age.”
Furthermore, said Rushing, “I’m incredibly impressed with how hardworking these actors are – and how far they’ve come in such a short time since school started. They came ready and prepared, and everything’s going smoothly. I’m so grateful seeing how they’ve grown and how well they’re doing.”
He said his students can handle complex and tough questions that don’t have obvious answers, such as individual vs. corporate accountability, justice vs. revenge, and the value of art and its place in society. “But this play doesn’t give the answers,” said Rushing. “It leaves it to the audience to figure them out. Ultimately, this show is about how do we treat each other – and I hope people leave thinking and talking about it.”
Senior Jonah Hilbert portrays juror Noah, 16, during the play’s three trials. “Noah has a predisposition to finding the adults guilty because of something that happened in his past, and it makes him angry,” explained Hilbert. “But people who are convicted will be executed – so the stakes are high.”
“It’s an interesting experience playing him because I get to tap into more negative emotions and be able to feel why he’s so upset about the situation he finds himself in,” said Hilbert. “The audience will like that this show asks really thought-provoking questions about justice vs. revenge and how much a human life is worth. And as they see all the different personalities of the jurors, maybe they’ll be able to see themselves in some of them.”
Playing Ren is senior Alyce Visioli. “At 17, she’s one of the oldest and wisest jurors,” said Visioli. “She’s also the jury foreman, orchestrating the debates between those who think the defendant is guilty and those who think he isn’t. She’s soft-spoken but realizes that the ones with the loudest voices aren’t always the most unbiased, so she has to take the lead.”
Visioli likes her role because “Ren’s kind of the voice of reason, and she does her best to guide the group, keep their emotions in check and de-escalate the arguing among them. She can also be the voice of the audience because she’s the impartial vote. And when others lean toward one side or the other, she stays in the middle.”
She said audience members will enjoy “exploring the dynamic between these young people as they’re faced with such difficult, life-and-death decisions. And I hope they’ll think more about the future and how our actions now could affect it.”
Senior Jack Dudding portrays juror Xander, also 17. “He’s a theater kid, loves poetry and is a high-school dropout,” said Dudding. “But he and the others are trying to save the world before it’s too late. And that’s the whole point – they’re just kids deciding whether adults should live or die.”
He said Xander is also a member of the volunteer Climate Defense Force, helping at refugee centers and doing flood rescues after the ice caps have melted. “I love playing him,” said Dudding. “He’s a bit stoic, has a crush on Ren and is giddy that she likes his poetry. So he finds happiness and believes that adults who can bring joy to life are worth saving and that we live for beauty and the arts. So that’s why Xander’s such a blast to portray up there – and he’s also got a really cool name.”
Dudding is also thrilled that “we get to put on such a high-concept play, like this, with the state of the world right now. The audience will appreciate how bold this show is. We have a diverse cast and a strong message telling people that this could be the way it is in the future.”
As for the set, junior Nico Loomis is the person in charge. “We’re going for something more skeletal because we want people to focus on what the actors are saying,” explained Loomis. “We have two doorways, some columns and a stained-glass window as the jury-deliberation room. The defendants give their statements on a platform in a different room, and they’re projected to the jurors via Zoom to show that everything’s virtual now.”
“I liked working with everyone on the set; they’re all really nice,” continued Loomis. “And this play’s really important because it shows people an idea of what their future could be like if they don’t change the way the world’s going, right now.”