by Dick Kerekes and Leisla Sansom
It is a new school year for a college with a new name. What was formerly FCCJ is now Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) and now offers some four- year degrees. What remains unchanged are the innovative choices in the productions on the stages of the Wilson Center at the South Campus location. Year after year, Professor Ken McCulough comes up with interesting plays that in most cases we have never seen, and in some cases never heard of, but we are always entertained and educated.
FSCJ’s latest production is on the Wilson Center Main Stage, and is a classic absurdist play by playwright Luigi Pirandello. Six Characters in Search of an Author>/i> was written in 1921. Pirandello was a prolific writer who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934 for his “bold and brilliant renovation of the drama and the stage.”
You will notice the word absurdist, a genre of play we don’t see much of on the local stages since First Coast Theatre Arts closed up shop several years ago. If you are familiar with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or any of John Guare’s work, you have an idea of what to expect when you see this production. Pirandello has had a number of translators of his work; this one is by noted theatre scholar, Robert Brustein.
The setting is an almost bare stage, which in this case is at the Wilson Center. The actors are using their real names. Under the direction of Senior Actor/Rehearsal Director Tyler Patton and Stage Manager Chelsae Newberry, actors and technicians are rehearsing a version of Christmas Carol<.i>. They include Anthony Bido, Phillip Allison, Ryan Arroyo, Stephen Brazile, Lauren Eitzenberger and Jerald Wheat II.
During the course of the scene where Scrooge visits a graveyard, done with a cemetery on a floor to ceiling scrim that stretches from wall to wall, six characters suddenly appear on stage and interrupt the rehearsal. They plead with the students to finish their tragic story, a play which has been abandoned by its author. The Father played by Bo Lockwood, says that the characters are frozen in time and cannot escape unless the play is finished. After some urging by Rehearsal Director Patton, most of the students accept the challenge and agree to postpone their own play rehearsal for the evening. Further, they agree to act out the script.
All six characters, who are identified only by their roles, Father, Mother, Son etc., are dressed in black, looking very much like refugees who have just arrived off a boat from the old county back in the 1920’s. They have pale white faces and look like death itself enhanced by some very stark and dramatic lighting.
The play gets a bit tricky as it progresses, as the characters tell intertwined tales of woe that includes death, betrayal, and incest.
The Father and Stepdaughter have the bulk of the dialogue for the characters all of whom are new to us, except for Julia Fallon as the Stepdaughter. Ms. Fallon grew up in musical theatre locally and, has a lovely voice. She was the lead in Ragtime at Jacksonville University last year. She also is capable of very demanding and challenging dramatic roles. She was excellent last year as the cruel and vicious Inez, in John-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. Chloe Campbell as the Mother, who has lived a life of despair and pain, uses expressive body language and facial expressions that were truly moving. Bo Lockwood, in his first production, was excellent in the role of the persuasive Father. Other family members included Son (Thad Walker), Younger Son (Steven Carter), and Young Daughter (Phalecia Rumsey.)
A seventh character, Madam Paz (Mary Cumpton), owner of a house of ill repute, is introduced later. This particular scene was done behind a mirrored scrim, and was a unique and intriguing special visual effect.
Tyler Patton who played the pivotal role of Rehearsal Director has been active on other stages in this area, most recently seen in Noel Coward’s Private Lives at Theatre St. Augustine.
Johnny Pettegrew was the Lighting/Scenic Designer, with set construction by students of Drama Practicum and Technical Labs.
We won’t reveal the dramatic ending that seems to fit perfectly with this type of non-reality play. There are many layers to this theatrical exploration as it unfolds, and each one keeps you guessing, and wondering where all of this is going. It is certainly an evening of thought provoking theatre.
If you’ve ever complained that Jacksonville theaters stick to safe, predictable programming, this is the play for you! Don’t miss this opportunity! Final performances at the Nathan H. Wilson Center , 11901 Beach Blvd, at 8 p.m. November 6, 7 and 2 p.m. November 8.
Six Characters In Search Of An Author
by Dick Kerekes and Leisla Sansom