By Jess Wisloski
In an era when Russian spies fill the TV screens of our nightly news, and it can be hard to tell who the “bad guys” are, it may be appropriate that high-school students are readying for a production about the heroic, if bumbling, antics of American counter-intelligence agents working on the side of good.
“Get Smart,” a play based on the original TV series by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, which satirized the secret agent genre in the 1960’s, is set to take the stage this weekend at Champlain Valley Union High School, and promises a nod to the kitsch of the era, and pure escapism (despite the topicality of modern day events.)
The play, Get Smart, was adapted from the show’s pilot episode while the TV series was still on the air, in 1967. The episode, “Mr. Big,” was adapted by Christopher Sergel, who more famously adapted Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the stage (not screen).
The play introduces KAOS, the international organization of evil, and CONTROL, the employer of Agent 86, or Maxwell Smart and Agent 99, his usually wiser female sidekick.
In the story, Agent Smart, played by Kai Reinsborough, and 99, played by Meg Young, are trying to prevent KAOS from blowing up the Statue of Liberty while simultaneously protecting Scandinavian Princess Ingrid, played by Williston’s Mishka Rehak. They’re also tracking down four kidnapped blondes, played by Hannah Hunt, Jane Lindsely, Katherine Mathon and Kianna Ayer, who are being held captive by KAOS henchmen as part of their nefarious plot.
“It’s set in 1965 and we are embracing that fact,” said Candy Padula, who is directing the show. “It’s reflected in our costumes, quite wild and outrageous, lots of color and wigs and hair and makeup. We’re trying to recreate the fun of that TV series, as well as the movie that came out eight years ago,” she said.
She said some of the students were skeptical of the costumes at first, including Pete Spasyk, a Williston student, who plays a college kid in the production. “When we started putting costumes on and…I first gave him his costume, it was a bright shirt and plaid pants and a denim coat. He looked hesitant,” she recalled. “I told him, ‘What this costume needs is a white belt,’” she said, and soon Pete was digging up other accessories to go with it, including white leisure shoes. “It’s fun to flash back, I think the kids are embracing that,” she said.
Staying true to the TV’s opening credit sequence — for those that forget, it’s the agent walking through a series of automatic doors that open, then shut behind him, before he is lowered down in a phone booth — she said the play will be recreating that for the stage. Also true to the show: all the gadgetry and surprises.
“Our secret agents are in unusual locations–we have all of that hokey fun stuff from that original series,” said Padula. “You might consider it to be dated, but you could also call Maxwell Smart an innovator. Would you not believe the Smartphone is influenced by him?” she said, mentioning a “wallet phone” in the series, essentially as the original flip-phone.
For those who prefer the nostalgia factor, it’s worth noting that the play is filled with era-appropriate music. And, because it was set when a popular Beatles album was released, she said the evil agent that Smart is up against is “The Exterminator,” as a play on the bug joke, and there are other references – but Padula didn’t want to give away any more than that.
Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $9 for general admission, $6 for students and children, and can be purchased at the door.