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Characters add own play on words in 'The Phantom Tollbooth'

The Seton School eighth grade students are ready to entertain in "The Phantom Tollbooth." Pictured in the back row are Mitchell O'Brien, Jacob Rabaey, Alyssa Sturgeon, Katelyn Johnson, Juliann Stark, Dob Kintz, Tom Henry, Justin Lees, Jack Calkins, Nick Lees, Cody Wagner and Cooper Lees. In the middle row are Noah Brenny, Jake Erredge, Nick Kummer, Eva Boncich, Teah McGrath, Jake Streeter, Laura Church and Grace Bauer. In the front row are Johanna Tetzlaff, Elizabeth Peine, Charles Wenker, Ryan Klein, Jo...1 / 4
The king's chef, and spotlight coordinator is Ryan Klein. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)2 / 4
Milo (Tom Henry) believes initially that is life is boring and things that happen are unimportant. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)3 / 4
The Spelling Bee (Rachel Weber), Tock the Watchdog (Juliann Stark) Milo (Tom Henry) and Dr. Kakofanous A. Dischord (Jonathan Duclos) discuss their plan of action to save the country. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)4 / 4

When St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School teacher Darlene Thiele looked at new reading textbooks for the school, the first act of "The Phantom Tollbooth" was included.

"I immediately loved the interesting characters and the clever play on words," she said. "This play was perfect for casting 29 students and also fit into our language arts curriculum of learning literary terms such as idioms and puns."

Norton Jester's "The Phantom Tollbooth" will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, in the Seton School gymnasium.

For many of the students, this play is their first and only opportunity to take a drama class, said Thiele. Public speaking is included in all grades at the school, but often in a smaller venue.

"In eighth grade, we require them to take a drama class so they have the experience of acting on a stage in front of an audience," said Thiele.

The students gain more than the acting experience, too.

"Students also gain experience in a public performance from beginning to end," she said. "They do it all - from lights, sound and sets to designing the program and gathering costumes and props. Students learn how to work together for a common purpose and gain confidence and team-building skills."

The "car" that Milo (Tom Henry) and Tock The Watchdog (Juliann Stark), use in their travels was designed and made by parent Denise Kuntz. The car was made in the family garage, then was "walked" down to the school at 7 a.m.

"Then we couldn't fit it through the school doors, so the custodian had to remove a door jam through the side double doors to get it into the building," said Thiele.

"The Phantom Tollbooth" was presented to the school body earlier this week. This Thursday's performance is open to the community.

The Story

Milo is a boy who thinks everything is a waste of time. He arrives home from school one day to find in his bedroom a mysterious package that contains a miniature tollbooth and a map of "the Lands Beyond." Attached is a note, "For Milo who has plenty of time." He assembles the tollbooth, takes the map, drives through the tollbooth in his toy car, and instantly finds himself on a road to Expectations. He pays no attention to his route and soon becomes lost in the Doldrums, a colorless place where thinking and laughing are not allowed. However, he is found there and rescued by Tock, a "watchdog" with an alarm clock attached to him, who joins him on his journey.

Their first stop is Dictionopolis, one of two capital cities of the Kingdom of Wisdom.

After an altercation between the Spelling Bee and the blustering Humbug, Milo, and Tock are arrested by the very short Officer Shrift. In prison, Milo learns the history of Wisdom. Its two rulers, King Azaz the Unabridged and the Mathemagician, had two adopted younger sisters, Rhyme and Reason, who had settled all disputes in the kingdom. Everyone lived in harmony until the rulers disagreed with the princesses' decision that letters and numbers were equally important. They banished the princesses to the Castle in the Air, and since then, the kingdom has been plagued with discord and disharmony.

Milo and Tock leave the dungeon and attend a banquet given by King Azaz, where the guests literally eat their words. King Azaz allows Milo and the Humbug to talk themselves into a quest to rescue the princesses. Azaz appoints the Humbug as a guide, and he, Milo, and Tock set off for the Mathemagician's capital of Digitopolis to obtain his approval for their quest.

Along the way they meet such characters as Alec Bings, a little boy who sees through things and grows until he reaches the ground, and have adventures like watching Chroma the Great conduct his orchestra in playing the colors of the sunset.

In Digitopolis, their first stop is the mine where numbers are dug out and precious stones are thrown away.

In the Mountains of Ignorance, the three intrepid journeyers contend with lurking, obstructionist demons like the Terrible Trivium and the Senses Taker. After overcoming various obstacles and their own fears, the questers reach the Castle in the Air. The two princesses welcome Milo and agree to return to Wisdom. When the group leaves, Tock carries them through the sky because, after all, time flies. The demons chase them, but the armies of Wisdom repel them. The armies of Wisdom welcome the princesses' home, King Azaz and the Mathemagician are reconciled, and all enjoy a three-day carnival celebration of the return of Rhyme and Reason, the princesses of the land.

Milo says goodbye and drives off, feeling he has been away several weeks. Ahead in the road he spots the tollbooth and drives through. Suddenly he is back in his own room, and discovers he has been gone only an hour.

He awakens the next day full of plans to return to Wisdom, but when he returns from school the tollbooth has vanished. A new note has arrived, which reads, "For Milo, who now knows the way." Milo is somewhat disappointed, but looks around and finds that the world he lives in is beautiful and interesting.