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WHS fall play is a turkey of a comedy

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Cast members from "The Case of the Missing Gobbler" rehearse Thursday at the Memorial Auditorium and Performing Arts Center in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- A cast of 15 Worthington High School (WHS) students is stirring up the memories and setting the mood for Thanksgiving this week at Memorial Auditorium.

After about two months of rehearsal, the young thespians involved in "The Case of the Missing Gobbler," will present this seasonal comedy by Megan Orr on Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. -- and they are planning to play it for maximum laughs.

"It's mostly an ensemble piece, with the action carried by the entire cast, which is largely why we picked it," said co-director Anna Korver. "This is a comedy about a family with nine children -- the Parkers -- and the kids are trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner without their parents when the turkey goes missing," she added.

Korver, a second-year math teacher at WHS, is making her local directorial debut along with Kelli Straley, a third-year ESL teacher at WHS.

"Theater has been my hobby since middle and high school," Korver said.

Originally from Little Falls, Korver majored in math but earned a minor in speech/theater at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. "I've been involved in dozens of productions in some capacity," she said.

"Kelli is from Lakeville and graduated from Winona State, and she did technical work in theater during high school," Korver added. "We kind of split it up along those lines, with me working more with the actors and her handling the backstage, technical side."

Korver calls "The Case of the Missing Gobbler" a lighthearted, family-friendly production that the students have enjoyed exploring.

"The kids have had fun with it, and for many of them, this is either their first time on stage or their first time in a bigger-than-a-chorus member acting role," Korver said. "One of the challenges of this show is having ninth- through 12th- graders portraying kids ranging in age from 6 on up."

Depicting the youngest Parker family member is Megan Cavanaugh, a petite senior for whom this is a first theatrical appearance.

"Anny (Sompamitwong), one of my friends, convinced me to try out," said Cavanaugh. "I'm supposed to be 6, so I play with toys and generally add to the comic effect.

"I think I'm kind of nervous, but the blinding lights help because you can't really see the people sitting out there," she added.

In contrast, Cavanaugh's classmate, Caleb Dirksen, is a theater veteran who has appeared in all but one of the plays and musicals that WHS has produced since the start of his freshman year, as well as community theater projects "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Music Man."

"What I really like is how the cast has become more like a real family," Dirksen said. "You start to see how the traits the characters have go along with the actual people who play those parts."

Dirksen portrays the clan's grandfather, Leonard Leary, and becomes part of the show's madcap humor when he is arrested for a minor traffic violation while en route to the family home for Thanksgiving dinner -- but thickens the plot when he escapes from jail.

"I've liked having two directors," Dirksen said of Korver and Straley, "because we've gotten different views on things from each one, and it's added to our insight about the characters."

Korver, in turn, praises the students involved.

"They've really done a great job and have been delightful to work with," Korver said. "To help them learn more about theater, we did some basic theater games and activities to get them warmed up for being on stage earlier in the process."

Because of Straley's ESL focus at WHS, the co-directors were able to recruit a number of ESL students to help with the production.

"They would see us rehearsing, and Kelli waved them in," Korver explained. "They weren't necessarily willing to audition, but they are a big part of our backstage and set crew, and they've helped out with painting and building things. It's been fun for them, and fun to have them involved."

Also participating is Flora Csete, an exchange student from Hungary who has yet to experience her first American Thanksgiving. The play has provided some valuable background to the upcoming holiday for Csete, who plays the family matriarch.

"I find Thanksgiving interesting, and I'm looking forward to it because I've never had one," expressed Csete, who is living with host Kerry Johnson. "I think it's good to sit down with your family, have a dinner and talk, and it's good to be thankful for things. I understand this holiday is about being thankful."

Summarized Korver, "This play will be a good precursor to Thanksgiving, and we thought turkeys were very appropriate for Worthington.

"This isn't a stuffy Shakespeare play, but a comedy that is very appropriate for families."

"The Case of the Missing Gobbler" will take place Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium, Worthington. Tickets are available at the door; there is an admission fee, and District 518 activity passes will also be honored.