Review by Lauryn Angel
Janey Callahan-Chin is a 90-year-old retired English teacher in the small town of Rio Vista, California who enlivens her community with the plays she writes and directs. Her cast is composed of fellow community members of all ages – from high school students to the town elders. In Janey Makes a Play, writer and director Jared Callahan chronicles one of Janey’s productions from the beginning of the writing process to the opening night party.
While Janey is the focus of the documentary, Callahan also gives a history of Rio Vista and takes time to fully introduce Janey’s cast of players. Janey tells us early in the film that her main purpose for writing her plays is the town’s young people, because unless they play sports, “there’s nothing for them to do to feel important.” This is highlighted by interviews with Janey’s young cast. Sean McKenzie is a football player who sees the value in the plays because every part is important. Lorren Montgomery wants to eventually find a way to Broadway, even if that means she has to starve. Kianna Machado is the quirky artist whose weirdness is proclaimed by her drama teacher to be her best feature.
Janey Makes a Play is essentially a loving portrait of a woman who brings joy to her community through her stories. She brings people together through a shared love of theater, and everyone in the town wants to be involved. It’s a very sweet, feel-good story about a woman who wanted to make her town a better place. It’s a much-needed reminder that there are good people in the world who are trying to make a difference in whatever way they can.
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