Home Girl power takes center stage in student production of ‘Sympathy Jones’ at ShenanArts
Arts & Media, Local

Girl power takes center stage in student production of ‘Sympathy Jones’ at ShenanArts

Rebecca Barnabi
“Sympathy Jones” will be performed Thursday-Sunday, January 25-28, 2024 at ShenanArts. Photos by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

Call her Jones. Sympathy Jones. But don’t call her your everyday American spy.

Sympathy Jones is a young woman of the 1960s preparing to step outside her gender role as a secretary, and show her boss that she would make a great spy.

This weekend, Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School students in 11th and 12th grades and ShenanArts present “Sympathy Jones: The New Secret Agent Musical.”

Director Cassy Maxton-Whitacre said the production is obscure in the theater world and was suggested to her through an education forum on Facebook a few years ago. She waited until she had the right group of students who could deliver the voice talents necessary for the music.

“A couple of the guys are tenors, and sometimes teenage guys aren’t tenors,” Maxton-Whitacre explained. “And I never want to push my students beyond where they’re vocally comfortable.”

Last year, she presented several options to her senior students, including “Sympathy Jones,” and was thrilled when the students said they wanted the jazzy, campy musical set in the 1960s.

“I had started to think: ‘I think I can cover this show this year,'” Maxton-Whitacre said. “But, I didn’t tell them which one I wanted to do.”

Seventeen students bring the story of girl power to the ShenanArts stage. Not only does the show present a strong young woman as protagonist and hero, but the production also contains a strong young woman as the villain and mastermind behind the story’s conflict.

“Richard Oscill” has invented a watch for which anyone wearing the watch will enjoy unlimited youth. When the watch is stolen, his mistake does not turn out to be that he allowed the watch to be stolen. His mistake is that he spurned his ex-wife for a younger woman.

“It is a fun, girl power show,” Maxton-Whitacre said, but the show does not just have girl power, but illustrates how several characters are able to come into their own.

The production also illustrates the importance of asking for help when help is needed.

“I think audiences will enjoy seeing something they haven’t seen before, haven’t heard before,” she said.

Jacob Hostetter brings “Nick Steele” to the stage this weekend. As the star spy of his agency, “Steele” is used to being center stage until an injury puts him on the sidelines.

“He’s a lot dumber than he thinks he is. He thinks he’s really smart,” Hostetter said of his character.

While, as an actor, it is easy to portray a guy like “Nick,” Hostetter said he worked on giving the character more depth and humanity with a back story and putting him in context with the other characters.

“I think that has really prepared me the most for this because it’s not a terribly challenging acting role, but just to be able to make a more in-depth character makes it flow so much more easier,” Hostetter said.

He also participated in vocal work in class with his castmates, which he considers a talented cast.

“With such a talented cast, it came together pretty well and pretty quickly.”

He began performing in theater with the Waynesboro Players when he was 7 years old, and audience members have also seen him in Waynesboro Schools productions and at The Wayne Theatre.

“Sympathy Jones” spies on the presentation of “Richard Oscill’s” invention.

“I’ve been in the theater world for a while, especially around here,” Hostetter said.

Hostetter said he hopes audience members see in the production “how powerful anyone can be” and the potential in life to do what they want.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, you can overcome and you can work to get to wherever you want to be.”

He believes that audience members seeing actors on stage reach a character’s full potential encourages them to also reach their full potential. The production taught him that when “Steele” was injured and he found another way to help the agency, anyone can find a way to help in some way.

“There’s always a way, no matter what state you’re in, to be able to help other people.”

Aiden McQuain portrays “Kitty Hawk,” the villain of the production.

McQuain, who has previously been seen in productions at ShenanArts, Blue Ridge Community College and The Wayne Theatre, said “Kitty” is very pink and loud. Divorced from her rich husband, “Kitty” gives the scorned woman all new meaning.

“I’ve been very feminine,” McQuain said of preparing to portray “Kitty.” As an actor, she listens to music to help her find a character. And previously portrayed a villain’s henchman. “She’s very feminine, very pink, very feminine, very vibrant.”

“Kitty” is McQuain’s first role as the main villain of a story.

“I hope people enjoy [the show],” she said.

Through “Sympathy Jones,” McQuain said she has made a lot of good friends in theater and she is excited to perform a production with them on stage. She hopes audience members also have fun seeing the show.

ShenanArts is at 300 Churchville Ave., Staunton. Tickets are $10 to $15 per person, and available online.

“Sympathy Jones” will be performed Thursday, January 25 at 7 p.m., Friday, January 26 at 7 p.m., Saturday, January 27 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, January 28, 2024 at 3 p.m.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.