by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea opened up its main stage Saturday evening the 29th of October for a two performance showing of local playwright Michael Fixel’s Salamander Stew. The play was very appropriate for Halloween weekend since it had slithering creatures and gnomes and other phantasmagorical illusions.
Before we dip into the stew, a few words about the “appetizer” served up before the main event of the evening. Bartram High graduate and now UNF music major Jacob Rothman sang three short selections from the musical “Jekyll & Hyde.” This is a musical we had seen Mr. Rothman perform in total at Bartram a few seasons back. He was very good then, and his voice is even better now. Shows you what excellent vocal training and singing in a number of operas with UNF can do for aspiring artists. Matt Tompkins was excellent as the narrator who gave us some background so we could enjoy the selections more. After opening with “This is the Moment” as Dr. Jekyll, Rothman was joined by Allison Lewis as Lucy performing the duet “Dangerous Game.” In the final number Rothman alternated back and forth between Jekyll and Hyde in “The Confrontation.”
Michael Fixel wrote the original Salamander Stew in 1973, and then tucked the script away until he found it again in 2010, did some rewrites, and produced it at the New York Fringe Festival this past August. The production, directed by his daughter Juliet Fixel, who works in New York theatre as an actress and director, was quite a hit with the Festival.
The play has been remounted with students of the Bartram Trail Theatre department, where Michael’s wife Ava is the departmental director; Mrs. Fixel was the director of the current version of this play. The production has been to and will be going to future thespian competitions.
This is a one-act play that runs about forty minutes, with continuous action during the presentation. The script follows the adventures of handsome Steven (Brandon Mayes) and his love affair with the attractive Susan (Lindsay Coates). Tanner Folds is the narrator and explains what is happening as the action moves along. Steven launches his hallucinatory trip in a forest setting with a toke on a large imaginary joint of grass. (That stuff was big in the 70’s). Steven is somehow separated from Susan, wakes up and winds up hungry, and is offered Salamander Stew by the Gnomes (Jon Oliver, Abby Nehring), the Dwaves (J. D. Rees, Lizzie May) and the Salmanders (Allison Lewis, Rachele Rees, Lainey Edens). The offering is a strange stew, with a number of good things in it like spinach, radish and ginger, but the lizard’s lungs and rabbit paw aren’t too appealing. Don’t expect it to show up on McDonald’s menu anytime soon.
The show used taped music, and lots of it, making it a great show for fans of theatrical dance. The choreography by Lindsey Coates and Brandon Mayes was outstanding, with most of the characters in energetic motion throughout the evening.
The play is also a great show for costumes; those created by Ari Rivera and Leiloni Lewis, were certainly eye catching. Susan appears in an earth-colored Georgette dress, while the Gnomes, Dwarves, and Salamanders wear distinctly different garb. Disheveled hairstyles added to the illusion of creatures in a primal, dreamlike setting.
The set included a black backdrop and side drapes, red flooring with scattered leaves and autumn foliage, and what looked like a cushioned liner for a pickup truck.
The dialogue is mostly in verse and intriguing. The whole show felt like it was a part of a Harry Potter movie. We especially liked the dance number done on a totally black stage with the round red illuminated eyes of cats.
This play has been published by Parallel University Press and we are sure it will become a frequent choice of high schools and universities since it is very versatile in the number of dancers that can be utilized.
Salamander Stew proved to be a very interesting evening of theatre and we appreciate Player’s Educational Director Barbara Colaciello Williams and Players by the Sea for making the production possible.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM