If there is a long-lasting staple of teen fiction that everyone can relate to, it is S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders.
And now the St. Albert Catholic high drama department puts passion and energy to this coming-of-age story that addresses social, economic and class divisions in a typical American town.
With four productions slated for the Arden Theatre on March 5 and 6, co-director Debbie Dyer believes “the play connects with some basic human needs — belonging, identity, being able to understand oneself and the struggle of letting other people know who you are, especially when they already have an image of who you are.”
Dyer first read the book in Grade 8 and later played the lead female character Cherry in her Grade 12 school production. Each time she identified strongly with the characters.
“This is a story that confirms to a Grade 8 boy or girl that they are not alone and their experiences are not unique. The novel has a unifying face.”
Hinton first penned the novel when she was 14 and a year later publishers were showing interest. On the day she graduated from high school in 1967, Puffin Books published the novel. By 1983, it was made into a movie starring a talented pool of upcoming superstars —Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Diane Lane.
In Hinton’s world the characters are stereotypes, either Greasers or Socs (pronounced sosh), short for Socials. Greasers tend to be the poor, often misunderstood who get beat up by a rival gang, the wealthy and privileged Socials.
The hero Ponyboy Curtis (Michael Schiller) lives on the wrong side of the tracks with his older brothers Darry (Patrick O’Donovan) and Sodapop (Michael Paruby). Their parents are dead and the brothers are scrambling to stay together.
One night at a drive-in theatre, Ponyboy and his friends Dallas (Conner Lawless) and Johnny (Taylon Holdsworth) meet two Socs — Cherry (Chelsey Tattrie/Dominique Simard) and her friend Marcia (Erin Markowski/Kennedy Tkach).
Ponyboy and Cherry develop an instant connection and he realizes not all Socs are alike. As the Greasers walk the girls home, Bob (Jayden Bearchell) and Randy (Christian Dallaire) intercept them. Bob and Randy think the Greasers are trying to pick up their girls and the Greasers recognize Bob as the Soc who once beat up Johnny.
The girls prevent a fight, but that night when Ponyboy comes home late, his older brother Darry hits him. Ponyboy storms out and meets up with Johnny. As they wander around, they encounter Bob, Randy a few other drunk Socs. Ponyboy is nearly drowned in a fountain and a terrified Johnny stabs Bob, accidentally killing him.
This incident spawns explosive fights between the rival gangs, a burning church, a heroic rescue and the mother of all rumbles.
Dyer explains that even though the class divisions create a barrier between the two groups, there is an essential humanity that links them.
“There are metaphors of humankind throughout the play. In one scene Ponyboy and Cherry find a commonality of experience — that it doesn’t matter what side of the tracks they are on, they both get to watch the sunset at the end of the day and that’s part of being a Soc or a Greaser.”
In her quest to find the play’s heart and truth, Dyer rails against the plague of inaction created by cliques.
“Cliques define identity but it becomes hard to open the door to let someone else in and feel what they are going through.”
When audiences leave the theatre Dyer would like them to, “Look around at the people they love and be grateful. And to look at other individuals and their lives.
“Just take a moment to reflect — how do I need to know myself better through discovering others more?”
St. Albert Catholic High School Drama Department
Playing March 5 and 6 at noon and 7 p.m.
Tickets: $15/adults; $10/students and seniors or a 5-pack for $55. Call Monica at 780-459-7781.