High Schoolers Find Drama in Ryder’s Trials

Times Staff Writer

Enter now into the public record “Sticky Fingers: A Tale of Saks, Lies and Videotape,” an all-singing, all-dancing production by students at Point Loma High School here.

Using the Winona Ryder shoplifting case as its fanciful focus, “Sticky” satirizes the whole schmear: Hollywood, Valley Girls, the media, psychics, TV lawyers, Richard Simmons, the star-crazed public, Hans Blix, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Keanu Reeves, Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Moore, Fred and Ginger, Martin Scorsese, Dr. Evil, a generic Asian wise man and more.

And it’s more than just a sendup of pop culture. It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of work by several dozen students under the direction of teacher Larry Zeiger -- who plays the piano and also does a turn as Larry King, interviewer to the stars.

“Sticky” is the 27th annual production of what Zeiger calls his “Gotta Sing Gotta Dance Company,” in which students write the material, construct the sets, gather the costumes and play the roles.


“We’re inspired by the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland ‘Hey, let’s put on a show,’ kind of spirit,” said Zeiger, who has taught literature, film and drama at Point Loma for 29 years and has a string of graduates working in the entertainment industry.

There is, of course, method in the theatrical madness as students learn that creativity does not come easily and that even a spoof requires hard preparation and teamwork.

“What Larry brings to this school is immeasurable,” said Point Loma Principal Michael Price. “I don’t know how I’ll replace him if he ever decides to retire. ‘Gotta Sing Gotta Dance’ is part of the culture of this school.”

For a generation plugged into the movies and celebrity culture, the story of Ryder’s trial and conviction for snatching $6,500 worth of high-tone goods from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills was a natural.


“Sticky” starts in a Spanish village in North Korea where a star-struck girl named Winnobega Driver wins a tango contest judged by Fidel Castro and after leaving her boyfriend -- an employee of a missile-making factory -- comes to America for a fateful encounter with her idol Winona Ryder at Saks on Rodeo Drive. It all makes sense, in context.

Many of the students have been in other school plays. But some are rookies, drawn by Zeiger’s energy and the allure of completing their senior project requirement by participating in “Gotta Sing Gotta Dance.”

“What I hope is that they get a lifelong passion for the arts,” said Zeiger. “Maybe I’m naive, but I keep thinking if more people cared about the arts, the world wouldn’t be in such a miserable state.”

Ricky Holtan, who plays Arnold Schwarzenegger (“I want to pump you up”), is a football player. And Jon Watson, who does a wickedly funny imitation of Joan Rivers, is student body president.


Schwarzenegger, by the way, was invited but sent his regrets. His publicist sent Zeiger a letter noting that Arnold is in Cannes this weekend promoting his new movie “Terminator III.”

Ryder was also invited. So far, no response. Her publicist, Mara Buxbaum, says she’s not sure the actress ever saw the invitation, noting that Ryder gets a lot of mail. Saks donated shopping bags for the set.

Jennifer Williams, 18, who plays the star-struck Winnobega, says the role was one she was born to play.

“I can relate to Winnobega because ever since I was 9, I wanted to leave home and live in New York and be a star on Broadway and be glamorous,” said Williams, who will attend San Jose State University in the fall to study dance and theater.


As for Zeiger, “He’s very inspiring, very good at getting people who have never done theater to open up and be daring.”

Said the principal, “He’ll definitely get in the kids’ faces, no doubt about that, he’s a unique individual.”

To prepare to play Ryder, Emily Greer, 17, watched several of her films, particularly “The Crucible” and “Mr. Deeds.” But she didn’t find her character until she put on a Ryder-like black wig.

“The wig changed my whole look,” said Greer, who will attend UC Davis. “Suddenly, I just kept acting very sophisticated, very above everybody, ‘Here, kiss my ring,’ very Hollywood.”


Among the many lessons that Zeiger hopes his students will learn is the eternal one about the theater: The show must go on.

Milan Patel, 17, bound for premed studies at UCLA, landed a prime role as Kim Jong, Winnobega’s persistent if nerdy boyfriend. Then, a few weeks before “Sticky” was to open, he busted his leg during some horseplay at an off-campus party.

“I was still groggy at the hospital when I looked up and there was Mr. Zeiger with some flowers telling me, ‘Don’t worry, you still have the part,’ ” Patel said. “He’s a cool guy.”

“Sticky Fingers” plays at Point Loma High School, 2335 Chatsworth Blvd., San Diego, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Tickets are $10.