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A real lesson in politics with Mattituck High School play

Mattituck High School performs 'The Election' beginning Thursday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

There’s been a lot of name-calling and mudslinging at Mattituck High School lately.

The adjective “loser” has been thrown around quite a bit. The question of birthright has also been raised.

This isn’t an assignment for a debate class or an exercise in political science about reviewing the current U.S. presidential primaries. 

This is Don Zolidis’ satirical play “The Election,” written in 2012 specifically to be performed by high school students. 

The parody of presidential elections in the adult world opens Thursday, April 14. 

The main character, high school junior Mark Davenport, decides to run for class president to pad his college résumé. His competitor, a very nerdy Christie, also decides to run, declaring that she’s always wanted to be class president. The influence of a slick campaign manager, the media and political action committees also factor into the comedy’s plot.

See ‘The Election’ at Mattituck High School

April 14, 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at the door:

$7 for adults; $5 for students and seniors.

MHS senior Ava Gaines, a student producer, said the fictitious student body gets riled up by “audacious and irrelevant insults slung from podium to podium” as the class president campaigns unfold.

“The parallels between what’s happening in this facetious debate — with basically children — is what’s happening when you turn on CNN and Fox News,” Ava said. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried that a high-schooler closely resembles someone that could run the country.”

English teacher Amanda Barney, the play’s faculty director, said she’d been waiting for an election year to present the play. Although it was written before the current election cycle, she said students often remark that the dialog appears to have been pulled from a recent primary debate.

“The audience is going to be able to relate to Mark Davenport’s frustration and outrage,” Ms. Barney said. “He starts out innocent — he’s trying to just be a kid and do the right thing — but the political pressure coming from the Super PAC and competition changes him as a person.”

Students said they’re also learning why real-life candidates sometimes say things they don’t truly mean.

Raven Janoski, a senior who plays the lead’s best friend, said she now has a better understanding of why candidates have to take a cutthroat approach in order to get ahead.

“Voters will choose whichever candidate is more charismatic — more out there — and has more slanderous things to say about the other person,” she observed. “Donald Trump has a huge following and a lot of it is because he’s a charismatic speaker who likes to slay words at the other candidates — and he’s entertaining to watch.”

While the play was written four years ago, there are a number of lines in the play that match controversial comments made during the current presidential election campaign.

Sarah Fogarty, a senior who plays Sasha, an actress, gave an example of how personal appearance is a common theme in both the play and in the current election.

“One of Mark’s lines is: ‘Look at that face. Who could vote for that face?’ And that’s exactly what Donald Trump said about Carly Fiorina,” Sarah said. “How candidates go after things as petty as personal appearance shows how ridiculous these candidates are attacking personal appearance.”

Sam Shaffery, a senior who plays Chip, a reporter, described the correlations as “almost taking the comedy away.”

“It is a satire, but the parallel between the extreme ridiculousness of the actual presidential election and the extreme ridiculousness that is built into the show is really right there,” he said.

Sam is one of a handful of cast and crew members who will also be eligible to vote for the first time in this year’s presidential election. He supports Democratic contender Bernie Sanders because he agrees with his economic plan, which includes extending public education by four years to cover college.

“Right now, much of the extreme poverty and lack of proper education can hold back massive amounts of humanity from getting ahead and building something for themselves,” Sam said. “Unless we have a government that helps people — that’s going to attempt to level the playing field a little bit — then the American Dream is more or less worthless.”

Sarah said she’s still undecided, but will vote for whoever wins the GOP primary.

“The Republican ideology is personal responsibility, which I believe in,” she said. “It’s hard to find a candidate to actually disclose what they want to do with the country instead of it just being this popularity contest.”

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Photo: Mattituck High School performs ‘The Election’ beginning Thursday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)