by DICK KEREKES
Theatre Jacksonville officially opened its 89th season with Jim Leonard’s unique coming of age story Anatomy of Gray. It will run through November 15 at the Harold K. Smith Playhouse, 2032 San Marco in Jacksonville. The reservation number is 396-4425.
The comedy/drama may well the sleeper of the year, and this is the North Florida premier of what is a very well acted and cleverly staged play that is eminently entertaining and filled with sagacity.
It is set in the town of Gray Indiana in the late 1800s. When l5 year old June’s father dies, she sends a letter to God, asking for a healer to come to this town that has no doctor, so that others might not suffer. Suddenly a tornado occurs, forcing a man in a hot air balloon to the ground. He is Galen Gray, who claims to be a doctor who brings strange knowledge of medicine to the simple townsfolk. Information about something called germs and other diagnostic terms. He endears himself to the town by saving the life of young June. The single women line up to be examined, since Mr. Gray is after all handsome and charming and single. The men are more skeptical. Soon a mysterious plague shows up and begins to spread and the town caught up in love and healing is now confronted with loss and death. I will let you discover the interesting ending when you see the play.
Director Staci Cobb has done a remarkable job of casting this show, with just the right person, just the right age and all very very believable in each of the roles. Her direction is well paced and very artistic. Ms.Cobb is a Jacksonville native, who spent eight years in New York, mainly as an actress and singer, and also directing. Since returning five years ago, she was an award winning and much in demand actress both for her singing and acting. She will be one of the featured soloists in Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Home for the Holidays in December.
Regina Barry is Maggie, owner of the local restaurant and she is country as her cooking. This is her Theatre Jacksonville debut and she adds to her resume of interesting roles she performed in Player’s by Sea Home on Deranaged and First Coast Theatre’s Betty’s Summer Vacation
Bishop Kenny High School drama teacher, Erin Mah, in her second appearance on TJ’s stage (She was the countrywoman in The Beaux’ Stratagem), has some very funny moments as Tiny, a spinster who is still looking for love, although there is not much to find in this small town. She becomes so enamored with the new doctor and his talents.
Lenny Thiesen is Crutch, is the local blacksmith, who likes to sample his own home made whiskey frequently but is a hard working man who is capable of many emotions.
Tyler Ross is wonderful as Homer, the naive teenage farmer, who loves soda pop, and wants to be a man. Ross is a very versatile and solid performer, and I was glad he came back to Jacksonville to finish his college education. He always gets the most out of every role he does and is a joy to watch on stage.
Unless you have seen plays at UNF or Episcopal High school you have not seen Tyler Patton perform. I have and he has developed into a very solid actor, and gives a rich performance as Pastor Phinas, the town’s preacher who always carries a bible even though he can’t read.. He is blind in one eye, caused by his trying to baptize a cat! Patton’s scene with the doctor curing his kidney stone attack while he is wearing his long johns and standing on his head is one of the funniest in the show.
Shelly Higgins Hughes, as Rebekah, a widow and mother to June and Marcia Morgan Cook, as Belva, wife to Cutch, are veteran award winning actresses whose combined credits in many many shows could fill this page. Their presence and experience give this script believability. It’s always a pleasure to see them perform.
I am always amazed at the acting talent of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts students. They not only perform in plays at their schools but with the community and professional theatres all over North Florida, and they are always good. Zoie Matthew is a sophomore at DA, and plays the pivotal role of June. She is wonderfully animated, speaking not only with a clear and pleasant voice, but also with excellent physical gestures. Her first role on TJ’s stage was in Dearly Departed, wearing a fat suit! Who knew that beneath all that foam was such a good young actress? You will love her.
Jefferson Baker is picture perfect as unusual physician Galen Gray, who faints at the sight of blood, but is very knowledgeable in medical matters up to that time in history. Tall, good looking with a great smile and very expressive face, I can see I can see why June and most of the women in town have a crush on him. Mr. Baker’s biography in the program, obviously written by him, is vague as to his background, and he preferred to tell us the TV shows he likes. I recall seeing him in Enchanted April and one of Theatre Jacksonville’s Shakespeare productions. He has good stage presence and is a very likeable character.
Kelly Wagoner, scenic designer, has used the minimalist approach for this show, with some set pieces carried on stage, and most of the action takes place on an open stage with risers giving some depth and feeling of space. Jeff Wagoner has used creative lighting to enhance the moods from a tornado to a burial scene. The back wall is a black curtain with a large white drape that is striking. This presents a challenge to all the actors who must project since there are no solid walls to reflect the sound into the audience. On opening night the actors did a great job of making themselves heard.
It is a joy to have Joy Smith, back this season as costumer for TJ’s season. Her creations bring the late l800s to life for us as an audience.
The key to making a living in theatre these days almost requires multi-tasking, and actress Miranda Lawson, is flexing her creative muscles as she says, as Assistant Director and Stage Manager for this production.
This play is sponsored by the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, and this seems like a perfect match since the play explores early medical treatments and beliefs. Wow, we have come a long way in a short time. I hope you will see this delightful play and to enhance your enjoyment, go to the Theatre Jacksonville website www.theatrejax.com and check out the excellent study guide for this show.
Anatomy of Gray
by DICK KEREKES