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Backstage at Point Loma High School’s Larry Zeiger Performing Arts Center in San Diego, 90 minutes before curtain on Friday night’s final performance of Sticky Fingers: A Tale of Saks, Lies, and Videotape— an original musical inspired by the Winona Ryder shoplifting trial — the show’s cast and crew gathered around a big-screen TV to watch themselves on Celebrity Justice. In one corner of the room, somebody’s dad stood on a chair with a camcorder pressed to his eye, videotaping the kids watching the videotape. When the segment was over, there were hollers of “More!” and “Let’s watch it again!” and “We’ve already seen it, like, 20 times!” and someone pressed the rewind button.
“We hated Celebrity Justice,” explained Emily Greer, 17, a pert blond gymnast who played Ryder. “They kept trying to get us to say something bad about Winona. We said, ‘It’s a satire.’ It was like they couldn’t hear or something. They kept asking the same question over and over: ‘Why don’t you like Winona Ryder?’”
Greer said that her role had given her empathy for the actress. “The moment I put on that wig I just acted so different. Above everyone.” She assumed a faux-British 1940s Warner Bros. leading-lady accent — ”Oh, hello . . . Yes, yes . . . ,” and purred. “Just totally, ‘Kiss my ring, kiss my feet.’ You know? The only thing about being famous is, you definitely get annoyed by the press. I mean, it’s exciting because it’s pretty much the first time when everyone’s, like, really like wanting to know about you, you know. But I can definitely see how it could get really old and you just wouldn’t want to see very many people.”
In the theater, where empty Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bags were propped up on all the seats, the play’s creator, 55-year-old Larry Zeiger — Sticky Fingers is the 27th original musical he has written and directed in 29 years at Point Loma High — described his interview schedule in the three days that had passed since the AP wire carried an item on the show. “The BBC put us on for 20 minutes. I was interviewed by my hometown paper in Cleveland. Phoenix, St. Paul, Boston, London. Rick Dees. The York Theatre in New York City is looking for a developmental project, a couple of producers have called me, interested in movie things. This is hilarious: We were on Radio Islam. Someone sent me a news article — a fairly big one, from Sydney, Australia. One came from Paris. It was all in French.”
“Zeiger,” as the kids call him, wore a white shirt, burgundy tie, and black trousers held up by suspenders printed with the masks of comedy and tragedy. His large, narrow-set eyes, aquiline nose and sly grin suggest what John Waters might look like if rendered as a plush toy. He said that Sticky Fingers had become “an outrageous media event.”
“Everyone loves the celebrity gone bad,” Zeiger said. “I also think that a lot of people are tired of standardized testing in the schools, and so when they see an arts program get international press, it makes people really excited and they just want to back it.”
Still, the one person whose attention the kids most craved had yet to throw in her support. Outside the theater, a canvas banner bordered with red stars read, “Point Loma WELCOMES Winona Ryder.” Two seats in the center of the front row were reserved for the actress, who had been invited but did not show up. After the performance it was rumored that a strange man with a blond beard and baseball cap sitting alone on the left side of the theater looked suspiciously like Winona Ryder. And word started going around that she had sent a camera operator to record the show. Zeiger confirmed that Henry Alex Rubin, an assistant director of Girl, Interrupted, had arranged for Sticky Fingers to be taped for possible use in a documentary that Rubin is making, with Ryder’s cooperation, about her trial. (Reached by phone a few days later, Rubin said, “We are not making a documentary”; the next day Zeiger said that Rubin called to ask that he keep quiet about the project: “Evidently, she’s still on probation, and she doesn’t want it to get out that this is being made.”
It’s hard to guess what Ryder might think of the play, which had 19 musical numbers and ran to about three hours. The central character, Winnobega Driver, lives in the only Spanish village in North Korea and dreams of becoming an “estrella grande” like her favorite actress, Winona Ryder. When she wins a tango competition judged by Fidel Castro, she leaves for Hollywood where she enters a beauty contest and wins a $1,000 shopping spree at Saks Fifth Avenue. At Saks, when she realizes how little $1,000 will get her, Winnobega begins cutting the sensor tags off the other items she wants — a black Natori handbag, a Marc Jacobs thermal top — and then runs into her hero, who has just finished a fully-paid-for shopping spree of her own. The two women mistakenly switch shopping bags, and Ryder is arrested for Winnobega’s crime. Winnobega fesses up at the trial and Winona goes free. Meanwhile, Winnobega is sentenced to six months of community service in Point Loma.