For T.J. Lyons’ four years at Ardsley High School, Flori Doyle has been his director, adviser and touchstone.
This June, Lyons leaves Ardsley, graduating.
And Doyle leaves Ardsley, retiring.
After 20 years, most of them at the helm of Ardsley’s plays and musicals, Flori Doyle is moving on. (That’s her, inset, with the company of this week’s musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”)
Lyons, 18, is preparing to take his final high-school bow, as Pseudolus.
“It’s weird. I haven’t felt it completely yet, but I know that on Opening Night and closing night, I’ll be like, ‘Wow! Last set,'” he says. “It’s going to feel sad and weird, but I’ll be OK with it, because I’ve had an amazing four years here.”
Lyons didn’t say much in his first two Ardsley musicals.
His first, as a freshman, he was the puppeteer inside the man-eating Audrey II plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.” His brother, Teddy, did all the talking as the plant’s voice, making Audrey II and all-Lyons affair.
As a sophomore, Lyons still didn’t get to say much, as King Sextimus the Silent in “Once Upon a Mattress.”
Last year, that changed, when Lyons played Mark Cohen in “Rent.”
Now, he’s Pseudolus, the fast-talking, crafty slave and master manipulator at the center of all the fun in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Lyons is making up for that slow start on the talking front.
While he might be preparing for his own departure, that’s not to say he’s ready to bid Doyle good-bye.
“I can’t even imagine not seeing Mrs. Doyle all the time,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult. She’s always there, someone to talk to. She’s an amazing woman. And since she’s retiring, I won’t be able to come back and see her here.”
In the weeks since announcing her departure, Doyle has been visited by alumni wanting to thank her for her counsel. She expects to see more this week, when the curtain rises on “Forum,” a farcical romp that involves slaves, courtesans, eunuchs, missing children and a captain seeking a bride.
Lyons said Doyle — who was a fixture in the New York State Theatre Education Association — went far beyond telling her actors where to stand and what to say.
“She’s on Facebook and she’ll post a video about Romans or something, whatever is tied to the show. She gives us all this background and helps us get into the whole vibe of the show.”
That’s not just for the musical. Last fall, Ardsley staged “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” prompting Doyle to post information about medications and therapies.
“She gets us into these characters and helps us make them well-rounded,” Lyons said.
Doyle made daring choices for high school stages, including: “The Children’s Hour,” about accusations of lesbianism that lead to suicide; “The Laramie Project,” about the death of Matthew Shepard. And last year’s “Rent,” which wasn’t the student version of the show. Doyle also staged a memorable production of “The Producers,” the first by a high school in the Lower Hudson Valley.
Doyle may be retiring, but she’s keeping her options open.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll direct again,” she says. “I want to act, write, talk, be part of the theater world. And continue to encourage and coach teens.”
To attend a Flori Doyle rehearsal at Ardsley is to encounter collaboration, a give-and-take that can be blunt at times. She challenges, she questions, she prods.
And, in the end, she celebrates.
When he thinks of Doyle, what does Lyons hear her saying?
Lyons doesn’t blink an eye before responding.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”—7:30 p.m., March 19, 20, 21—$15, $12 students.
Here’s the Running Lines video I shot at Ardsley. Enjoy!