A new twist to ‘Breakfast Club’
Antagonist John Bender changed to girl for play at Rancho Cotate High
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By Mira Brody  February 7, 2014 12:00 am

“We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all,” recites character Brian Johnson in one of “The Breakfast Club’s” most poignant lines. The 1984 hit movie is currently being revamped by the Rancho Cotate Drama Club, a timeless story that explores the stereotypes and criticisms of high school life through the confessions of five seemingly different students.

The jock, the brain, the basket case, the princess and the criminal are all forced into Saturday detention together, and in the confines of the school library face the fact that, although enemies around campus, they all share a common fear: to absorb the dysfunctions their parents have placed upon them. 

It’s the storyline that relates to teenagers, and reminds adults of that dark confusing vacuum we all experienced a slice of at one point in our youth.

 

Teenage defiance

The play began with a hearty round of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (forget about me)” and the five actors marching on stage, facing the audience with the level of defiance akin to that of any teenager.

“You see us as you want to see us...in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions,” recites Nick George, who plays Brian Johnson, deadpan amongst his colleagues.

The students at Rancho Cotate however, placed an interesting twist on the classic movie by turning the main character, John Bender into a girl, Jean Bender, played by Natalie Anderson. Not only does this adaptively place the role of pot-smoking, abused, criminal on a young woman, but the somewhat romantic relationship between her and Claire Standish, played by freshman Lexi Alfano, although dampened, is not entirely removed leaving behind a hint of bisexuality.

Although there is a surplus of exclamation, some of the more comical scenes are executed by Rachael Zschach, who plays the basket case Allison Reynolds, who is mute for the first half of the play. She instead utilizes gestures and antics to draw attention to herself; at one point in the play a slice of bologna ends up in the rafters of the stage.

John Hughes’ movie has nestled comfortably into pop culture and explores the hidden lives of five teenagers whose outward dispositions work so hard to maintain a certain image. Much like their false stigmatisms, Rancho Cotate itself has had its share of dealing with the assumptions of the outside world as well.

 

The wrong impressions of the Ranch

“Most people only see our school from the street, driving by,” says Breakfast Club director Brian Abbott on the negativity surrounding Rohnert Park’s largest high school. “They see the fences, the peeling paint, the fact that it looks like it’s falling apart. But I cannot express to you how pleasant a place it is to be here.”

Abbott, who teaches Shakespeare, drama and English, notes how much of a difference it has made since Superintendent Robert Haley removed the old chain link fences that had shrouded the school for years. Like any community, it takes an insider to truly understand the passion and intellectual power that occurs beyond the apparent exterior, something Abbott is absorbed in.

“I just have the luckiest job,” he says, gazing out from the emptied stage in the Multiuse Room at his students as they clean up after the play. “This group, they’re super. They’re cohesive, nice. Just great students.”

 

Supporting open auditions

Abbott, who makes a guest appearance as Carl the Custodian, has directed about 30 plays in his life, 15 of them during his seven years teaching at Rancho Cotate. Producer Don Gibble explains that although a few of the actors are advanced drama students, they continue to support the tradition of open auditions throughout the school, which allows for a much more diverse group of kids as well as a larger audience during performance time.

“I just got into acting because I like lying a lot,” jokes George. He has been acting since the age of four at local theaters such as Spreckels and Cinnabar in Petaluma. “I’m going to the JC next because they have the best drama department in the country.”

“I got into drama because I just really liked the people,” says Lukas Blondia, who plays Andrew Clark and lives up to his character; he plays baseball for the school. “I’ve always liked reciting movie lines so I figured this is the place to be.”

Whether they are being ignored, pushed too hard academically or athletically, abused, forgotten – the characters these five students flawlessly portray all believe their problems are superior and unreliable, a misconception familiar to everyone.

The Rancho Cotate Drama Club’s rendition of The Breakfast Club is a must-see, and will run Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. in the high school’s multi-use room.

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