Unlike the usual light-hearted plays often performed by high school drama classes, “Upstream Toward Lethe” focuses on a more serious topic: aging and the struggle to hold onto one’s memories.
The play takes place in the Twilight Time Community, a retirement home. The stage was realistic to the very last detail from the items in private rooms to the lounge area.
The first scene introduces elderly Tom ap (“son of”) Roberts, played by senior Muhammad Almeldin. Ap Roberts has been pushed aside by his daughter Helen Hale, played by junior Samantha Acayan, who has decided to put ap Roberts into the retirement home. Ap Roberts has arrived a day early, drunk and independent, to the Twilight Time Community. The scene ends with ap Roberts sobbing after telling his roommate how he was once part of a famous quartet but the others have died before him.
The day after, ap Roberts’ grandson Robbie Hale, played by senior DJ Kanter, visits and asks his grandfather why he has moved out of the house and to come back home.
For the first few scenes, the message is a bit confusing. As time progresses, the audience begins to understand what is happening.
There are multiple generations: the older generation placed in the retirement home, the middle generation, the sons and daughters, who make the decisions of what to do with the older generation, and the younger generation, the grandchildren, who are unable to understand the situation. Through these characters, the audience is able to see three different perspectives of the process of aging.
Along with that aspect, the play shows how, as one ages, the process becomes more apparent to the individual. The mind begins to deteriorate. Throughout the play, the audience begins to learn more about each elder, how they’re responding to aging, and the stage they are in.
The costumes are realistic for each character, as students are transformed by the power of makeup, hair products and clothing to look the age of their part.
The other elders at the retirement home besides ap Roberts are sisters Ella and Emma Hampton, Mrs. Pavels, Frank Eberhardt, and Aaron Goldstein, played by junior Hannah Jobrack, junior Alexa Castlemen, senior Mahalia Barrow, junior Jonah Beavert, and junior Zachary Denney, respectively.
The Hamptons embody those who are still happy despite being old — they practice singing and dancing every day. In the play, the two plan a birthday party for their grandson, as they have been doing for years. On the day of their grandson’s birthday, the two are informed that their grandson is too busy to come but will arrive tomorrow, during his lunch break, to pick up the presents. Later on in the story, Emma Hampton passes away and Ella Hampton is taken aback by the suddenness.
Mrs. Pavels is the epitome of what happens to the brain as one ages. Pavels has lost her memory and, periodically, thinks she’s still a school teacher, suddenly lecturing her roommates, mistaking them for her former students. Through these occasional moments, the audience sees the person she once was. Toward the end of the play, Pavels believes she is a little girl, again, that ap Roberts is a captain, and the two are at a dance. Pavels ask for his hand and, after the dance, says she must go and happily skips away.
Eberhardt personifies the elder who is always angry for being pushed aside and placed in the retirement home. He has married and divorced twice. From time to time, Eberhardt makes sexual comments about the nurses so the audience can see the personality of the young boy he once was.
Goldstein is the distanced, somewhat lonely, elder. At one part of the play, Pavel’s screams wake Goldstein up and he tells ap Roberts about the dream he just had. He had seen his deceased older brother and they spoke of the past, reminiscing about how, when they were children crossing the Atlantic Ocean, a sailor had taught them English cuss words. Then, suddenly, the dream was gone.
Each elder is very much alive. Their bodies and minds are deteriorating but their spirit is not. Throughout the play, the audience comes to understand that these are vibrant characters who are only dying physically.
The acting, for the most part, is credible. Those playing the roles of elders make sure to walk slowly and limp but occasionally forget to do so. Each actor and actress is able to portray the emotions of their character and evoke the audience’s empathy. When Hale tells his grandfather of his love for his teacher, it seems as if Hale really is in love. When Mrs. Pavels screams, it seems real. The suddenness of her screams makes the audience jump out of their seat.
“I have never before seen a play presented by high school students in which so many young actors made me suspend my belief that they were a bunch of kids in makeup and actually became intriguing elderly people living in a senior assisted living facility,” English teacher Grace Morledge said. “The characters and dialogue were great, and the students stepped up thoroughly to the challenging roles. Mahalia Barrow’s performance as a former high school Latin teacher drifting in and out of reality is truly not to be missed. Bravo!”
Overall, the play earns 4.5 stars out of 5.