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Spelling Bee hidden agendas / April 09, 2015

When you enter a spelling bee, there is usually only one desired outcome: winning! However, perhaps there are hidden agendas for the contestants, or maybe even for those who are helping with the bee. Such is the case for the three adults associated with “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Halifax County Little Theatre’s spring musical comedy. The adult show opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. for a two-week run at The Prizery in South Boston.

In addition to the six finalists at the bee, all of whom are rather unique contestants, to put it mildly, there are three adults who run the bee, and they are each special in their own way as well.

These adults are Rona Lisa Peretti, the lady who organizes and manages all aspects of the bee; Douglas Panch, the school’s vice-principal, who has a bit of a shady past (can you say STALKING MISS PERETTI?!); and Mitch Mahoney, the “comfort counselor” for the bee. As the contestants miss words, one by one, it is his job to escort them off the stage. Yet Mitch Mahoney is only there because he is serving his community service requirement for the court system (crime unmentioned).

These three adults are portrayed in the show by Alison Streeter, Devin Hall, and Austin Bowen, and they all bring a wealth of experience to the Little Theatre stage.

Alison Streeter’s embodiment of Rona Lisa seems a natural one. Rona Lisa is an organizer, a lady in charge, and a winner. Rona Lisa won “the bee” three times in the past, and she has been hosting the bee for nine years, helping awkward teens to find glory in winning or in accepting defeat. Likewise, Streeter is a lady in charge too, as she is the Prizery’s new managing director.

Streeter has lived in Halifax County since moving here from Indiana in 2002. She worked at The Carlbrook School in a variety of positions, most recently as dean of Alumni and Transition Services, until accepting the job at The Prizery. A lover of the arts, especially music in all forms, Streeter has performed her whole life, coming from parents who were professional musicians.

Many people know Streeter from her many performances at The Prizery. She has been in both versions of “A Christmas Carol,” “Smokey Joe’s Café,” “Suds,” “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” and last summer’s “Les Miserables.” In addition, she is a member of 6th ‘N Main, a popular local band, as a vocalist.

In what free time she has, she enjoys reading, playing the piano, and spending time with her dog, Faulkner. But most of her time recently has been spent helping The Prizery to raise funds for its operations and to promote the gem of the community.

Streeter says that people who don’t know this musical comedy might not know how very funny it is. Spelling bees can be quite serious events, but not Putnam County’s Spelling Bee! Since the contestants are played by adults who are portraying young people, the show is not childish. Rather, the production is rated PG13 for some language and adult situations.

Some audience members will actually get to participate in the bee each night for a few rounds, and it doesn’t matter if they are really good spellers or not. What matters is just the spirit of participating in the show and helping the comedy to move along. People hoping to be in the bee each night should show up at least 15 or 20 minutes before the show and let someone know of their interest.

It’s rather easy with no pressure involved.

The second of the adult roles in the show is played by Devin Hall, a Halifax County resident. Hall was very active in theatre at Halifax County High School during his school years, participating in “A Piece of My Heart” and “M*A*S*H,” among others, and he has been in several Little Theatre shows over the years, including “A Wonderful Life,” “Lying in State,” and both versions over the years of “Charlotte’s Web.”

A graduate of Eastern Mennonite University with a communications major, Hall worked for seven years at Camp Horizons in Harrisonburg as program director but has moved back to Halifax County as student activities coordinator at The Carlbrook School.

Hall portrays vice-principal Panch for the Bee, pronouncing all the words for the spellers and giving them the required information they are allowed to ask. Hall says that the interactive aspect of the show will be fun for the audience, and they can come and take their worries off of other things and just enjoy the show. He added “They’ll also hear difficult words that they’ll never hear again!”

The third adult in the show, Mitch Mahoney, is played by Austin Bowen of Danville. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Bowen’s family moved to Danville to be closer to family after 9/11. Bowen is a recent graduate of Averett University as a theatre major, and people might remember him in Averett’s productions of “Urinetown,” “All My Sons,” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” as well as Prizery productions of “Legally Blond,” “Hairspray,” and “Les Miserables.”

Bowen is hoping to move to New York soon to pursue his acting career, but he is pleased to be a part of this musical and finds the show hilarious with a really talented cast.

As Comfort Counselor for the bee, Mitch Mahoney is supposed to make each child who misses a word feel special and escorts them off the stage with a juice box to make them feel better! Even the local audience participants will be able to enjoy the juice box if they miss their words! Yet the looks on Mitch Mahoney’s face are priceless as he does his “community service” for transgressions unknown!

It’s all a lot of fun for the older teens and adults in the audience, and you’ll find yourselves rooting for different young people as you hear their stories and learn of their peculiarities.

The show opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. and continues Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

Then next week the show runs Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Prizery box office at 572-8339 or online at

Get your spelling genes ready, for the BEE is coming to town. In the meantime, start practicing words like weissnichtwo, langlauf, kaburi, or ptyalagogue. They might come in handy!

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