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Front row, from left, are Anna Milans, Asheton Arnold, Carson Colenbaugh, Matthew DeLeon and Amber Vogel. Second row are Reed Maddin, Martin Stabler, Landon Ebuna, Nick Haddad, Jonathon Parrish and Bayley Norwood. Third row are Bria McKouen, Sarah McDowell, Darrielle Williams, Laurie Hess, Ayana Arrington, Marisa Celentano and stage manager Analeigh Honeycutt. Not pictured: stage manager Olivia Seabaugh and Maggie Tanner. 

KENNESAW — Kennesaw Mountain High School claimed the state championship on Saturday in a competition that is often dubbed as the state championship of high school performing arts.

Eighteen KMHS theater students spent the past two months practicing, traveling and competing with “The Boys Next Door” before taking home the Class 7-A Georgia High School Association State One Act Play Championship honors on Saturday in Warner Robins.

“For high school drama students all across the state, fall means one act play competition,” said Coy Dunn, Jr., who directed “The Boys Next Door” and is the KHMS fine arts department chair. “They’re spending as much time on stage practicing as the football team is on the field. I’m really excited for the kids, to have that experience of working really hard for something and seeing that hard work pay off. That’s the big lesson you want them to take away from all of this.”

 Neither Dunn nor KHMS is new to taking home trophies. In his 13 years at KMHS, Dunn’s students have won two one-act play state championships and nine region championships. He also leads the school’s literary team, which is made up of performing and literary arts competitors, for which KMHS holds nine state championship titles and 13 region championship titles. Dunn himself was the 2011-12 Cobb County School District Teacher of the Year.

Dunn said he chose to compete with a one-act version of “The Boys Next Door” that he cut and edited himself to fit within the competition’s 55-minute time limit because of a variety of reasons.

“I had read and seen it several times but it used to be very popular and typically, you want to avoid performing something that is perhaps ‘overdone’ at the time. But it’s been a while since I’ve seen it performed, and it’s a show that you have to perform only when you have the right cast. The play is made up of four strong, male leads and one female lead, and I had a lot of talented boys this year so I knew this play would be a good vehicle for them,” Dunn said.

Dunn describes “The Boys Next Door,” a play that was written by Tom Griffin and first produced in 1988, as a comical but thought-provoking tale of four men with various mental disabilities who live in a group home together. The play centers around their various lives and disabilities, as well as an exhausted caretaker who tells them he is going to leave for a new job.

One of those characters, Lucien P. Smith, played by Matthew de Leon, has a shining moment when he breaks away suddenly from his speech-impaired monologue into speaking as though he has no disability, sharing with the audience what his life is truly like through the demeanor and speech of an everyday man. That moment and many others won de Leon the Best Actor award during the region competition.

One of the other male leads, Landon Ebuna, has competed in four one-act play competitions with KMHS and said that while they have all been special, this one was especially challenging and impactful.

“In this show, there are so many magical moments that I was able to experience and be a part of. We had them in the other shows, but in this one, those moments happened in almost every scene, which is rare,” Ebuna, who played Arnold Wiggins, said.

Dunn shied away from the typically lavish sets to simply use 18 boxes and the ensemble of actors to create walls, a courtroom, furniture and other set pieces, a minimalistic, imagination-generating trend that is currently popular on Broadway.

In the Class 7-A competition, Milton High School placed second with “Peter and the Star Catcher,” Archer High School placed third for “Silent Sky” and Norcross High School placed fourth for “Scenes from Arabian Nights.” In the Class 6-A competition, other Cobb schools placed in the top four, including Harrison High School receiving second place and Allatoona High School receiving third.

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