Alisia Escobar, a senior at Byram Hills, has played some great roles in her school career: Annie in “Annie,” Chava in “Fiddler on the Roof” and Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.”
Wonderful roles, all, but none with quite the dynamic range of Nellie Forbush, the Little Rock nurse who falls in love a world away, only to have her hometown prejudices throw a wrench into the romance.
Nellie has been taught that mixed-race relationships are wrong and when she learns the man she loves, Emile de Becque (junior Daniel Pepe), has fathered two half-Polynesian children, it’s more than she can bear.
“It’s not something I’ve been exposed to,” Escobar said. “I’ve got to come into touch with these harsh realities that did exist. It was tough playing it, but it was real for people back then.”
Escobar said she talked with her father about the role, and about prejudice.
She said that while the mixed-race prejudice may no longer be the hot-button issue it was, the world still deals with prejudice, as evidenced in the Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner cases.
“It’s sad to think that that stuff still exists, but it makes it easier to draw from, to know that there is a true struggle for people to escape stereotypes and these pre-set minds.”
The moment of discovery — when Nellie learns the true identity of the children she presumed belonged to the servants — comes when things couldn’t be lighter. She’s drinking champagne, convinced she’s about to marry this elegant man. And then things come crashing down for her.
“It goes from the happiest time to the worst possible situation, from zero to 100,” Escobar said. “Making that switch is difficult, but I’m working on it.”
Still Escobar doesn’t want this story to be depressing.
Nellie’s a fun and dynamic character, famous for “washing that man right outta my hair.”
“She’s definitely more light-hearted,” she said.
Pepe, who plays de Becque, said he has big songs — “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine” — but looks at the role as a meaty acting exercise, one that requires him to sound French.
“The accent is hard, but the rest is manageable,” the 17-year-old junior said. “It’s lots of fun to have the big bulk of it be acting.”
Pepe said de Becque’s outlook is forward thinking, compared to Nellie’s.
“At one point, she asks me what my political philosophy is and I say I believe in freedom for everyone. She says she does, too, but she doesn’t really. She may think she does, but it’s not till the very end, when she’s able to move beyond the way she was taught, that she actually does.”
“South Pacific,” at 7 p.m., March 5, 6; 2 and 7 p.m., March 7. $15, $10 students and seniors. 914-273-9200, ext. 4550; email@example.com
Here’s the Running Lines video I shot at Byram Hills. Enjoy!