AND THE WINNER IS . . . theatre review

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea opened Mitch Albom’s comedy And the Winner Is. last weekend. It will be on the main stage through May 8nd at 106 Sixth Street in Jacksonville Beach. With the recent Academy Awards still fresh on our minds, the timing for this play could not have been better.
The main character, Tyler (Dwayne Holden), is a long-time actor in films and has achieved financial success, with a net worth of millions of dollars, but has never received one of the coveted Oscar trophies for his acting talents. The play opens on the fateful day he is to learn if he will be recognized with a Best Supporting Actor Award. Unfortunately, one big problem has arisen; Tyler has died of a heart attack.
He finds himself transported to a way station set in a barroom in the great beyond, where he must remain for centuries before he can proceed to his ultimate destination in the afterlife. Others soon join him, including a loud Frenchman, Teddy LaPetite (David Sacks), who is his agent, his young attractive girlfriend, Serenity (Kasi Walters), and his former acting partner Kyle Morgan (Gary Baker). A lot of his former life is rehashed as Tyler tries to talk bartender Seamus (Redgie Gutshall), the gatekeeper of this purgatory, into allowing him to go back to earth for one night to receive his hoped-for Oscar
Act II has Tyler and friends plus his ex-wife Sheri (Cee Cee Hayes), dressed to the nines and back stage at the Awards ceremony. Does Tyler win golden status for his performance as an injured soldier in a Civil War film? Does he reconcile with his ex-wife whom he has accused of having an affair with his former best friend Kyle? The answers to these intriguing questions and more can only be learned when you see the play.
The play is directed by Erik DeCicco, a JU theatre graduate who went on to the University of Louisville for his MFA theatre. Already well known for his acting skills on the JU stage, local community theatres, and the Alhambra, Erik has become one of the foremost young directors in this area, with a number of innovative productions.
Mr. DeCicco has cast this show well. Dwayne Holden as Tyler is a Jacksonville native who has spent the last several years working in film. I recall seeing him on stage at Theatre Jacksonville in Biloxi Blues so many years ago that I think I was still doing my reviews on an electric typewriter! Holden is very convincing in his role and he reminds me of the current James Bond, Daniel Craig.
Gary Baker as Kyle is as usual very funny and is one of the most accomplished comic actors in this area. I am looking forward to see him again soon on the Players stage in Parade, the Summer Musical opening July l6th.
Having Cee Cee Hayes on stage is always a joy, and anything she is in is worth seeing. Ms. Hayes chooses her roles carefully so take advantage of this chance to see her in action. Her last appearance for PBST was the high acclaimed one-woman show O’Keeffe. She is classy as Tyler’s former spouse.
I have seen Kasi Walters, who plays Serenity, in a number of plays at Florida State College (FSCJ) where she is a student and this is a breakout role for her. She is marvelous as the sexy bombshell of a girlfriend with many, many assets, although intelligence isn’t one of them.
David Sacks as the sly and funny agent Teddy is more often found on stage in musicals, lots and lots of them, including Urinetown, The Rocky Horror Show, Assassins and Jesus Christ Superstar. A big man, he always gives a big performance.
Redgie Gutshall shines as Seamus, the jovial host, bartender, and guide, with mysterious powers. His comic talents are as much visual as they are verbal, with his sharp wit delivered in Gaelic-accented perfection.
The sets designs by Lee Hamby were uncluttered and allow all the physical movement called for in the script. As technical director, Jim Wiggins’ lighting design and special effects added to the originality and humor of this production.
The costumes by Lee Hamby included an authentic old-fashioned bartender’s costume for Seamus, along with contemporary casual and formal wear for other cast members.
In Act I, prerecorded video scenes were produced to provide flashbacks to Tyler’s life. The video portions, by Cinematographers Nicholas Barrera, Richard Hall and Meg Lawrence, were funny and advanced the story, but much of the audio was unclear and difficult to understand.
Players did a marvelous job of marketing the opening night of And the Winner Is, giving the audience the feeling that they were indeed attending the real awards. Patrons entered on a red carpet, with photographers on hand to record their entrances. A wonderful reception with delicious food served in champagne glasses was part of the gala opening. Players also had a costume competition open to everyone, with the theme of dressing like current or former Hollywood stars. Charlie White and Gayle Featheringill (two former presidents of Players) won, dressed as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Both received a nifty prize, a ticket to the Players opening of Ain’t Misbehavin on New Year’s Eve.
This is a quirky and unusual play that has a lot of humor, with a few bits of earthy language, (since the setting, after all, is Hollywood). The show is fast-paced with good acting, so don’t miss it. Call 249-0289 for reservations. Check out their website for photos and more information, at www.playersbythesea.org.

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021

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