Alum’s new play reflects on days at Maine South, boasts cast of former Hawks
Matthew Martello, right, writer and director of the play "A Touch of Class," works with actors Marty Maloney, left, and Michigan high school students Jennifer Stirling, Paige Driscoll and Jamie Misevich. | Contributed photo
Updated: August 20, 2012 6:06AM
Matthew Martello’s memories of Maine South High School helped shape the story behind his latest play, which he’ll present to local audiences later this month.
Staged readings of “A Touch of Class,” featuring a cast of Maine South alumni, will be held July 27 and July 28 at Edison Park United Methodist Church, 6740 N. Oliphant Ave., Chicago.
Martello, a 1990 graduate of Maine South and a 15-year high school drama teacher, was inspired to write “A Touch of Class” last summer based on his own experiences in Maine South’s theater department, as well as those of his late father, drama teacher and director Don Martello.
“It basically turned into a tribute to all the different people who have been important influences on my theatrical life,” Matthew Martello explained.
The play is especially a tribute to Martello’s father, who taught and directed plays and musicals at Maine South for 25 years until his retirement in 1990, and his colleague, Hal Chastain.
The play tells the story of Carole Schuman, a longtime high-school drama teacher who loves her job and has no plans to give it up — until she discovers she has an inoperable form of cancer. In response to the news, her students decide to organize an alumni reunion show in Schuman’s honor, but it turns into a race against time.
“It’s ultimately her facing the final curtain, as it were,” Martello said.
The playwright explains that the fictional characters were modeled on people he knew from his Maine South days and many of the lines in the play were taken from real life.
The cancer struggle experienced by the character of Carole Schuman, for example, bears a similarity to that of Chastain, who died from cancer in 1975.
“I am excited for this play to have a second audience, especially in Maine South’s back yard, where many of the references in the play will not be lost among the former students of my father and Mr. Chastain,” Martello said. “Ultimately, I am looking for this weekend to be a celebration of the Chastain/Martello years at Maine South.”
Because the story features the congregating of student alumni, so does make-up of the play’s the cast. Appearing in the performance are Becky Buford Bernhardy, class of 1975, as Carole Schuman; Patti Henebry Sponholz, class of 1976, as Evelyn; David Downing, class of 1976, as Dr. Bill Forrester; Marty Maloney, class of 1990, as teacher Tim Murphy; and Mary Morman Honegger, class of 1990, as Mrs. Kaminski.
Matthew Martello will play the principal, Ron Fraiser, and Schuman’s students will be played by Martello’s own students from Dexter High School in Dexter, Mich.: Jamie Misevich, Jennifer Stirling and Paige Driscoll.
“It’s not only the teachers, but also students and friends of mine who have been positive influences on my theatrical life,” Martello said.
As a Maine South student Martello acted in several plays under his father’s direction, including “The Crucible,” “West Side Story” and “Carousel.” But getting a role wasn’t that easy the first time around. When 13 actors auditioned for a dozen roles in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” Don Martello opted not to cast his son — but had plenty of constructive advice for the budding actor who, due to another student dropping out of the play, ended up with a role anyway.
“He had so much grace and class,” Martello recalled of his father, who died just three years after retiring from teaching.
Martello’s father died when he was a junior in college and never got to see any of his plays.
“I’ve done a lot and accomplished a lot,” he said. “This was kind of a nice tribute I was inspired to write.”
A portion of the proceeds from “A Touch of Class” will go to the Hal Chastain Memorial Thespian Scholarship program. These scholarships were established after Chastain’s death for students involved in the speech/drama programs at Maine South who plan to major in theater in college.
“A Touch of Class” will be at 7:30 p.m. July 27, and at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. July 28. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved by calling David Downing at (847) 826-4148 or emailing Dedown58@aol.com.