by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Theatre Jacksonville opened the season subscriber’s first show of the season with playwright Cat Delaney’s thought-provoking comedy Welfarewell. This show will run through October 29th at 2032 San Marco Boulevard. Call 396-4425 for information and reservations.
How far would you go to survive? That is the question that faces Esmerelda Quipp, the central character, who is eighty years old and retired. She lives on a small government pension, can just barely pay for her various medications, and is two months behind on the rent in her bleak apartment. She is unable to act any longer since there is not much call for actresses her age in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
When her cat Merlin dies, Esmerelda, unable to pay for a cremation, attempts to bury him in her landlord’s back yard, but is arrested and spends a couple of days in jail. Wow, not a bad place she finds, she gets three hots and a cot, and other inmates to socialize with. She comes up with a plan.
The daring Ms. Quipp botches a bank robbery to get pinched in order to get sentenced to a jail term. Due to the skill of a court-appointed lawyer, Mr. David (Thomas Trauger), she is regrettably found not guilty. The resourceful Esmerelda steals some recyclable wine bottles, returns them and uses the money to buy a gun. Then it’s back to the bank, and in one of the most hilarious scenes of the show, she again commits robbery and is again arrested.
There are several jail scenes where she makes friends with four women; two hookers, a compulsive shoplifter and a murderer, played by Ruth Simpson, Toni Philips, Erin Searcy and Erin G. Decker. The sympathetic and good natured supervisor of the Halifax jail, H.B. Hackett (Geoffrey King), dressed as a Canadian Mountie, treats them well, bringing them food and even letting Esmerelda keep her dead cat in the jail freezer until she gets the funds to dispose of him.
We don’t want to spoil it for you, so we will leave the plot for you to discover and only say you will leave with a smile on your face as there is an unusual happy ending.
There are other interesting characters in Welfarewell with Sandy Spurney as Judge Julius, Kayce Clark as the concerned social worker, and Mindy Roberts as Mildred, a frantic bank customer during the robberies. This is, by the way, Ms. Roberts first time on stage anywhere, and she was inspired by her husband and son who both appeared in TJ’s recent classic production of Our Town.
Ms. Decker, Ms. Philips and Ms. Searcy all double back as bank tellers by using wigs and a change of clothing. Thomas Trauger, very convincing as an attorney, also contributes as a chef and the landlord.
Amy Noel J. Canning puts on an incredible performance as charming Ms.Quipp. Ms. Channing took over the very demanding lead of this play well into the rehearsal process when an actress had to drop out. This character is on stage for almost every minute of the show’s two hours with some very tricky dialogue that includes a lot of quotes from Shakespeare (Esmerelda was, after all, a very refined actress). To portray an eighty-year-old, she used a gray wig, wore frumpy clothing and used her voice to denote age. Every aged woman in the world would like to have facial skin as lovely as Amy’s, and a bit of makeup and age lines would have made her more convincing. Don’t miss her remarkable performance as well as that of the fine supporting cast, and the outstanding direction by Shirley Sacks.
The set was designed by Scott Ashley who formerly lived in St. Augustine and designed many sets as resident designer for Limelight Theatre. He used revolving walls to create multiple settings, including an apartment interior, a bank lobby, a jail receiving station, a jail cell, a court room, and other locations. Stage Manger Annie Garner and her efficient crew handled the changes swiftly in the dark while we listened to some very interesting segue music designed by Director Sacks.
The costumes by Sally Pettegrew ranged from little-old-lady attire for Esmerelda to very short skirts for her young cellmates, and far more conservative dress for the more affluent characters. A particularly nice touch included a white lace collar for the judge.
This play debuted in 2009 and won the Samuel French Canadian Playwright’s Contest. The play was relevant then and is even more so in the economic situation of 2011, as many seniors find themselves in a dilemma similar to that experienced by Ms. Quipp.
To go along with the theme of the play, Theatre Jacksonville is holding a food drive for Jacksonville’s Clara White Mission by collecting canned goods in the lobby. You can help by bringing a donation of a can or two when you come to see Welfarewell. As Ms. Sacks says in her director’s notes, “this play is most assuredly comedic and poignant and a bit over the top but nonetheless the subject matter is both serious and sad.” Dual Critics certainly recommends this production as a very interesting evening of theatre.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM