Battle Mountain High School Players present ‘Flowers for Algernon,’ Dec. 2-3 |

Battle Mountain High School Players present ‘Flowers for Algernon,’ Dec. 2-3

Garvin van Dernoot, far right, performs in last year's Battle Mountain High School play, "Don't Drink the Water." This year, van Dernoot portrays Charlie through his myriad changes in "Flowers for Algernon."
Townsend Bessent | Daily staff report |

If You Go ...

What: “Flowers for Algernon,” presented by the Battle Mountain High School Players.

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, and Saturday, Dec. 3.

Where: Battle Mountain High School auditorium, 151 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards.

Cost: Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students.

More information: Tickets are available at the door.

Cast and Crew

• Dr. Strauss — Berit Kirchner

• Professor Nemur — Aiden Woodworth

• Alice Kinnon — Naomi Kuntz

• Burt Seldon — Blake Peterson

• Charlie Gordon — Garvin van Dernoot

• Doris — Maddie Raichar

• Nurse — Karen Guttierrez

• Frank — Casey Cope

• Gina — Lauren Reid

• Mrs. Donner — Beka Gershenoff

• Joe — Eliot Hutchinson

• Mother — Elena Ortiz

• Little Charlie — August Mayer

• Father — Shepherd Stone

• Child Norma — Bella Rubis

• Mrs. Feldman — Maddie McDougall

• Ellen — Stephanie Lasater

• Bernice — Lindsey Foley

• Connie — Nima Sherpa

• Chairlady/Mrs. Nemur — Kate Sparhawk

• Mrs. Mooney — Rebecca Wilson

• Mr. Mooney — Sam Litt

• Jackie Welberg — Alexi Peterson

• Anne Wellberg — Chloe Colley-Hiller

• Norma — Mollie McCoy

• Costumes — Joey Cordova

• Tech — Sophia Minar, Katie Bellerose, Hannah Litt

• Costumes — Tiia Kiuru

• Stage manager — Alyssa Anderson

EDWARDS — “Flowers for Algernon” is heroic, heartbreaking genius.

The Battle Mountain High School Players capture that and more in their production of the iconic story. It runs today and Saturday at the high school’s auditorium.

The genius of Daniel Keyes’ novel is that it not only takes you through Charlie Gordon’s changes, but also the changes in the people around him.

“You meet the people in his life and see how they’re affected by his changes,” said Director Kaylee Brennand.

‘I’m supposed to be mean?!?’

The book was written in the 1960s, and they’re doing it as a period piece, including the vernacular of the time.

“Flowers for Algernon” was first published as a short story in 1958 and as a novel in 1966. The language reflects the period — Charlie is a “retard,” the clinical diagnosis of that time — which was a little rough for the Battle Mountain Players.

“It can be tough to say something that they know is not right, making fun of someone or picking on someone,” Brennand said. “The first read-through was an eye-opener. The kids were terribly upset about it. It tells us these are really good kids.”

It was also disquieting back in the day.

In 1958, Keyes was approached by Galaxy Science Fiction magazine to write the story, and the elements of “Flowers for Algernon” fell into place. However, a Galaxy editor suggested changing the ending so that Charlie retained his intelligence, married Alice Kinnian and lived happily ever after. Keyes refused to make the change and instead sold the story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Keyes first tried to sell his novel to Doubleday, but they also wanted a different ending. Again, Keyes refused and returned Doubleday’s advance. Five publishers rejected it over the next year until Harcourt published it in 1966.

Cliff Robertson starred in the original 1960s movie. Matthew Modine started in the latest film incarnation.

Mountain-sized challenge

It’s a mountain-sized challenge for the cast and crew, especially for Garvin van Dernoot, who portrays Charlie through his myriad changes. The part is massive and requires him to change physically and then change back. Charlie is a 32-year-old man with an IQ of 68 who has struggled his whole life toward the goal of “being smart.” This goal is actually his mother’s obsession, and when she realizes the futility of it, she threatens to kill him.

The 1960s costumes are spot on, partially because some of them came from the wardrobe of Brennand’s mother — who also came from that 1960s period.

Speaking of time, producing something like “Flowers for Algernon” consumes massive amounts of it.

“They’re just doing it for the love of doing it. There’s not a lot of reward for this in the traditional sense of awards like letters or certificates. They do it for the love of theater,” Brennand said.

Alexandra Trosper, Battle Mountain’s new choir director, has a performing arts background and has been a god-send working with the cast’s physicality as they prepared, Brennand said.

Questions and morals

Keyes developed “Flowers for Algernon” over 14 years, inspired by events in his own life.

It was 1957 and Keyes was teaching English to special-needs students. One asked him if it would be possible to be put into a regular class if he worked hard and became smart.

Another learning-disabled student was removed from Keyes’ regular lessons.

“When he came back to school, he had lost it all. He could not read. He reverted to what he had been. It was a heart-breaker,” Keyes said during a later interview.

The eponymous Algernon is a laboratory mouse that has undergone surgery to increase his intelligence by artificial means. The story is told by a series of progress reports written by Charlie Gordon, the first human test subject for the surgery.

The novel and play touch many different ethical and moral themes, asking whether Charlie is better off and whether something should be changed just because it can be.

“When he became smart, he realized people were not laughing with him, they were laughing at him,’ Brennand said.

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