Like Lindsay Weir on the late and lamented series Freaks and Geeks, high school sophomore Vickie Martin is a rather reluctant member of the math team. Vickie joins the nerdy numbers squad to avoid detention, and — what do you know? — discovers that she actually, like, likes it.
That’s the setup in the SCAD theater department’s new comedy. Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen is onstage Feb. 14–17 at the Mondanaro Theatre.
The play was written by Kathryn Walat and premiered as part of the Women’s Project Playwrights Lab in 2005.
Reviewing its off Broadway production, Time Out New York called Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen “surprisingly touching.”
Walat, who’s been teaching performing arts and dramatic writing at SCAD since 2010, says her play isn’t, in the manner of Clueless or Legally Blonde, simply an examination of one shallow woman’s life–changing experiences.
“It’s also about the other characters, the boys on the math team,” she explains. “So it’s more about being young and being in high school. I was always a fan of the John Hughes high school movies, and I wanted to capture that kind of fun — an angsty high school sort of story — for the theater.
“I think high school in general is such a time about figuring out who you are and the kind of person you want to be. And for Victoria, that’s realizing that she’s a little bit different than she thought she wanted to be.”
There is, Walat admits, a bit of autobiography in her script.
“My sister was on the math team,” the playwright reports. “She’d been recruited, and my parents made her give it a shot. She unexpectedly started to love it. She had this funny group of nerdy guys that worshipped her.”
Walat herself was a member of the high school science team, in her Massachusetts hometown. She went on to receive her BA from Brown, and MFA from Yale Drama School.
When the SCAD job opened up, she was an adjunct professor in New York who commuted to a teaching gig at Yale. She’d never been to Savannah, but, big surprise, fell in love with the city.
“I felt like this was a place where I could live and be an artist, but also be teaching,” she says. “The amazing thing about SCAD is, it’s allowed me to integrate my professional career as a playwright and a professional theater artist together with my teaching. And today, those feel like one and the same for me.”
SCAD professor Mark Tymchyshyn is directing the all–student cast.
“Mark is one of my favorite people at SCAD, and in Savannah,” says Walat, “so it’s so fun to be working with him on it. I admire so much what he’s able to do with the students’ performances.”
She’s been involved with the developing production from Day One. “I think I’m helpful in that. I know the play really well, and have seen the play up before, so I can kind of point out the possibilities of a particular moment. And he can then translate that into his direction of the students, and really bring it to life.”
Not that she’s hovering — student actors don’t need that kind of pressure — but she’s made herself available. “As is typical, I was there at the beginning of the rehearsal process, where we were talking about the play, and about the characters, and I was able to give some input,” Walat explains.
“And then the playwright sort of goes away for a bit while they work on the performances, block the show and learn their lines. And then coming back and watching runs of the show. And giving some — hopefully — helpful hints here and there.”
Although she’s published several other plays, Victoria Martin was Kathryn Walat’s baby, her first big one. It’s particularly poignant for her.
“Something I love about writing for the high school world is that everything is so high stakes,” she says. “Of course, we in the audience are mostly a little older than the high school years. So it’s really fun looking back and remembering all the emotions and confusion, and high stakes of that time.”
Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen
Where: Mondanaro Theater, 217 MLK
When: At 8 p.m. Feb. 14–16, plus 3 p.m. matinee Feb. 17
Tickets: $10 general admission, $5 with senior, student or military ID