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A Valrico teenager and rising actor embraces a mature role in the local production of Picking Up Sticks.

It's 7:15 on a Saturday morning in Hazlet, N.J.

The Beneventos sit in the beer-can littered living room of their small row house, speaking with Det. Robert Williams. The 23-year-old blue-eyed mother is dressed in a black shirt, black leggings and black slip-on shoes, appropriate given the circumstances.

The father, who is even younger than the mother, wears a white tank top, a backward hat and jeans that hang a little too low. They hold their heads in their hands, sharing the same worried yet lifeless expression. The detective begins asking questions, going over every detail of the previous night - the night their 4-year-old daughter went missing.

The mother's red ponytail swings back and forth as she recounts the events from their traditional Friday night parties to the detective. She struggles to remember the exact events leading up to her daughter's disappearance. She's an outspoken, profane Italian woman with a New Jersey accent - on stage.

Offstage, Colleen Trundy is a 17-year-old Blake High student and Valrico resident whose portrayal of Rose Benevento in Gypsy Stage Repertory's Picking Up Sticks belies her soft-spoken, sweet high school girl persona.

"She swears a lot in the play, but she's a good kid," Jennifer Trundy, her proud mother, said.

Writer-director Lil Barcaski agreed that she is a good kid.

"She's playing a role meant for someone at least five years older than her," Barcaski said. "There were a couple of girls who tried out for the part, but she was the clear-cut choice. "

Colleen tried out for the Dunedin-based Gypsy Stage Repertory, which matches actors with productions. Given her stage presence and ability to play a convincingly distressed mother in Picking Up Sticks, which has been presented throughout the bay area, they chose the right part for the young actor.

"I like playing the opposite of myself. Rose says what's on her mind," Trundy said before a recent performance at Tampa Prep. "The lines get me into character since I wouldn't say those things, I can't be myself."

Colleen started acting in elementary school when her mother enrolled her in community theater. She played Mama Wolf in a parody production called Goldlilocks and the Three Pigs.

"I got to have fur on me, so that was fun," she said of her breakout role.

Since then she has played Peaseblossom in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Abigail in The Crucible, but this is her first time in a professional play.

"It's the most challenging role I've been in, so it's my favorite."

Although she is the youngest actor, she plays the most multidimensional character. She is in every scene and endures the most changes to her character. But, she couldn't have done it without the support of the cast.

"I picked up theater techniques like projection and being open to the audience," she said of what she learned from the professional actors. "It was different being the youngest, but they didn't treat me like the young one."

The play consists of five actors performing on one set. There are no distracting costumes or makeup; it depends on the actors and the story line, the journey of a young family that learns about themselves through the disappearance of their daughter and the manipulations of a grandmother. Colleen has entered the world of adult theater with this play, which contains drinking, drugs, cursing, secrets and life revelations.

"I like being a part of something bigger and trying on someone else's shoes," she said of why she likes acting. "You can be more in the moment than in normal life."

From her body language to her convincing emotions to simply remembering all of her lines, Colleen displays the potential to make acting a career, and though she wants to learn more about acting and eventually get into movies, she won't let acting define her.

"I am going to let my life take me to my career, not the other way around."

Arielle Waldman can be reached at

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Picking Up Sticks

Upcoming shows are 8 p.m. Friday, Largo Community Center, 400 Alt. Keene Road, Largo; 6 p.m. Oct. 20, Center Place, 619 Vonderburg Drive, Brandon; general admission tickets are $15, $10 seniors.