With a cast of 14 — 10 males and four females — the math does not add up to a gender balanced group of actors. But the director of Oak Park and River Forest High School’s upcoming production of Arsenic and Old Lace has done her part to make sure that the few girls who are in the cast take on two of the more prominent male roles.

Both Lt. Rooney and Officer Klein, traditionally played by males, have been replaced in the Little Theatre’s rendition with two female students, Olivia Zapater-Charrette as Rooney and Kahla Carter as Klein.

Michelle Bayer, an OPRF biology teacher and head of the theatre department, said she posed this question to Carter: “What would it have been like for females in a police department in 1941?”

She posed a similar question to Zapater-Charrette about her character, Rooney, a role that’s written to be intimidating and a bulldozer. The student’s stature, however, is not what one typically associates with the word intimidating.

Zapater-Charrette is a petite girl, according to Bayer, but her role as a take-charge lieutenant was intentional.

“It shows you don’t have to be a big person to be intimidating. It is interesting to see a smaller person being a bigger personality,” Bayer said.

Sitting across from Bayer in her small office situated along a hallway bursting with the afterschool sounds of teens talking and instruments being tuned up for practice is Delia Ford.

“I can’t sew. I can’t bake. But I told her,” Ford said motioning to Bayer, “I can help you with any incidents of violence.”

Sounds like an odd statement to hear, at first, coming from an OPRF parent. But Ford is an expert in stage combat. She’s a member of the Chicago based theater company Babes With Blades, which teaches women the craft of fighting on stage.

Learning such skills, “increases the canon of fighting roles for women,” Ford said.

Bayer called Ford a tremendous resource in helping to choreograph scenes for Arsenic and Old Lace, which debuts tonight in the Little Theater.

“Stage combat can be safe when it’s done right,” Bayer insisted.

The combination of stage combat and switching out traditionally male roles for female actors makes OPRF’s Little Theatre production a must see, according to Bayer.

“We want people to come see what we do, because our shows are just that good and our kids are just that talented,” she said.

A group of more than 60 students spent six weeks putting Joseph Kesselring’s late 1930s play-turned-1940s film classic, starring Cary Grant, together.  

To learn more

  • Arsenic and Old Lace

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday Oct. 17, OPRF’s Little Theatre; also runs on Oct. 18, 24 and 25. All shows begin at 7:30.

  • Tickets are $6 for students, $8 for adults and seniors.

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