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Recent Riverdale High School graduate Lars Johnson from Dunthorpe brings progressive ideas to the stage in his play "White Noise."
by: Vern Uyetake, Lars Johnson, a 2006 graduate of Riverdale High School, starts up the musical score while rehearsing his play “White Noise,” which he wrote, produced and composed the music.

Lars Johnson believes past mistakes are undoubtedly in the past, but they shouldn't be left there.

Instead, their outcomes should be used to re-think how Americans can positively steer the course of history through social and economic change.

'As a species, humanity is at a turning point. We're teetering … and we can balance or fall off,' said Johnson, who graduated from Riverdale High School in June.

'That's our responsibility as humans: To do whatever we can to protect humanity, even if it means protecting us from ourselves.'

Johnson, an 18-year-old philosophy junkie from Dunthorpe, wants to bring those themes to the masses through a production of his musical, 'White Noise,' on Friday at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in Portland. Following the 7 p.m. production, members of local teen band 'Paper or Plastic' will perform as part of a CD release party.

Johnson, who plans to major in philosophy in college, wrote and directed 'White Noise' as a senior project assignment. It takes place in 2030 and sets the stage for a fictional dystopia in the United States.

It also suggests such an oppressive society can be prevented, but only if the American people change how the country is functioning on a domestic and international scale.

Joe, the main protagonist (played by Riverdale alumnus Sky Hirschkron), lives in the midst of an American economic collapse and is faced with challenges that range from his bipolar girlfriend to roaming street gangs of gun-toting 'religious' fundamentalist drag queens.

Citizens, known as 'drones,' do exactly as they're told and think the sky is purple because they wear sunglasses and don't question the world around them.

Hirschkron, now a student at Emerson College in Boston, was intrigued with the musical's theme of 'limited concepts that have been developed through limited ideas.'

Johnson believes correlations can be drawn between the themes in 'White Noise,' and actual modern-day customs and ideas that Americans accept as truths.

Even seemingly miniscule practices, even those as common as the SAT test, should be placed under scrutiny, he added.

'It says that we should all think alike … Some of the greatest scientists in the world would not have succeeded in our academic system,' Johnson said.

Johnson also hopes the play will help increase awareness of the environmental and human devastation of war and weapons of mass destruction.

'As the U.S. fights these wars, it leaves a trail of human tragedy in its wake,' Johnson said. His play, he says, 'charges people to change.'

Like the classic predictive tales 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' and 'Brave New World,' 'White Noise

is a bit radical and hard to process as a reality (Johnson prefers it that way). At the same time, he doesn't think his futuristic world is that far of a stretch.

'It's saying, 'If things keep going the way they're going, this is what's going to happen,'' Johnson explained. 'The play is extremely abstract. There's nothing to 'get.' Your interpretation of the play should be what's important. You can get the play without 'getting it.''

'White Noise' is about 40 minutes long and features a cast of eight - mostly Johnson's friends from Riverdale who are experienced in the performing arts.

'The problem is, they're my friends so I can't be hard as a director,' Johnson said. 'I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I think they understand that and they've been really professional with everything.'

Johnson, a guitar and piano player, wrote the score in six months but decided to throw it away and start fresh. The re-written version - which includes Latin-jazz, funk, techno and punk rock music - was completed in two days.

Given the subject matter, it's fitting that proceeds from his production of 'White Noise' will benefit the Vietnam Friendship Village, an organization in Hanoi that treats children and veterans suffering from the effects of Agent Orange.

The U.S. dropped 20 million gallons of the powerful herbicide and defoliant during the Vietnam War to destroy the forest cover hiding the Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong. It's caused physical harm to those exposed.

Johnson has been fund-raising for the group since May. He hopes to raise more than $1,000.

'Vietnam is an example of what happens when a country gets into a war they can't leave,' Johnson said. 'Even though I did not actually participate, I feel as though I have a responsibility to remedy the (outcome).'

Tickets to 'White Noise' are an $8 minimum donation. Seating can be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis by calling Johnson at 503-544-8103.

The Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center is located at 5340 North Interstate Avenue in Portland. For more information, call 503-823-4322.