Picture perfect play
Johnny Latchkey’s Picture Perfect Life
It’s a Sunday evening, and a dozen or so high school students are huddled in the rain outside the First Methodist Church downtown, waiting for rehearsal to begin. One girl brought cupcakes, and the teens gather around, helping themselves. Others horse around, chasing each other through the parking lot and giving piggyback rides. In fact, there are more kids here tonight than there are roles to play—and that’s exactly how writer and director Pan Pantoja wants it.
Johnny Latchkey’s Picture Perfect Life is a joint production presented by Rainshadow Community Charter High School and Silver Stage High School. The actors consist of students and faculty members from both schools. The hour-long, sometimes controversial, play leads the audience through a therapy session with troubled teen Johnny Latchkey. His problems include one brother who commits suicide, another brother addicted to drugs, and a girlfriend with an abusive father—in other words, problems the play’s at-risk student actors can relate to.
“It’s about Johnny Latchkey and how he views life in his head,” says David Rodriguez, who plays the title character. “He has a lot of problems, and it shows how he deals with them and with his loved ones.” Much of the action, Rodriguez says, takes place in Johnny’s thoughts. “All the events go back and forth through time. You’re seeing how he registers it in his mind,” he explains.
Rodriguez, 18, is a senior at Rainshadow, and he says he’s enjoyed his introduction to theater. “It’s been great,” Rodriguez says. “This is my first time acting and singing and meeting these types of people. But I really enjoy coming here each day.” He’s a little nervous about singing in front of an audience, despite having taken voice lessons to prepare for the role.
"[The play has] brought my attention to things that go on, things that people don’t think about a lot,” says Rodriguez. “It will reach out to many people in different ways.”
Director Pan Pantoja, 24, is a professional artist and Rainshadow’s drama teacher. Although this is not his first production of Johnny Latchkey, Pantoja is excited about the opportunity to work with at-risk kids directly. “I believe that this play should be put up everywhere,” he says. “This play helps.”
Pantoja says he’s never done the play with a group this young. “These kids took to it right away,” he says. The actors gather onstage, practicing scales to warm up. “Many of them have never acted or sung before,” he says. “Now listen to them—they can sing!”
Not only do the play’s message and themes speak to the students, but the daily rehearsals also give them a place to go and involvement in an activity. “I’m glad they’re doing this instead of what they regularly do,” Pantoja says. “We give them the choice of being here and making a difference.”
Warm-ups finished, the actors have put on their costumes: black long-sleeved shirts painted with brightly colored, expressionistic depictions of internal organs and rib cages. One actor turns around, revealing a detailed spinal column painted onto the back of his shirt.
Rodriguez is back onstage, standing in the center of the group. “This is my world, this is your world, this is our world,” they sing in chorus. Both the teachers and the students hope their production of Johnny Latchkey will make that world a little better.