Eat, Play, Love

Jennifer Chase has been telling tales again. And for Northeast Florida folks who enjoy a good story, this is a very good thing. In 2000, inspired by a trip to Senegal, Chase penned the musical drama “Majigeen,” which chronicled the true life of a 19th-century Senegalese teenaged slave who became the plantation owner Anna Kingsley (of Kinsley Plantation, Ft. George Island). A decade later, Chase wrote the drama “Handmaid” about a Latin American painter struggling to honor a delayed commission.

Now the longtime area playwright, musician, author and educator (jennchase.com) has cooked up a blend of fact and fiction in her latest savory endeavor, “Artichoke Soup.” In a work she calls “autobiographical fiction,” Chase tells the story of an American musician named Justine who shares a musical and, ultimately, romantic collaboration with a man named Albert while traveling in France. Chase admits that the play was inspired by what she calls a “dark period” that occurred many years ago. But she acknowledges mythologizing some elements.

“You know when you are needy and probably read more into relationships than what they are?” she asks. “Artists tend to like that kind of misery, that ‘neediness.’ ”

In the story, Justine must come to grips with her feelings when her lover Albert arrives in America for a visit — with his wife and son in tow. Over the years, Chase herself has had to let go of what she calls “exaggerated memories” that had simmered for years.

“Sometimes you are not willing to tell the truth,” Chase believes, “unless you can fictionalize it.” A workshop performance of the play, staged on March 17 at Players by the Sea, directed by Christopher P. Farrell, features a cast of predominantly FSCJ students including Eva Sonnenberg Matthews, Ben Jackson, Kat Minor and Carole Coburn. Chase also performs songs from the CD “Artichoke Soup” with a band featuring percussionist Jon Farmer, cellist Linda Menke, bassist Donovan King, and multi-instrumentalist (and former Folio Weekly A&E editor) John E. Citrone — whom Chase credits with much of the sound of the album.

“John essentially made me rewrite most of the songs,” jokes Chase.

During the play, dramatic scenes are complemented by black-and-white films by Antonio Sarte, and the workshop performance offers a casual presentation of the work that can border on behind-the-scenes. “It is absolutely a work in progress,” says Chase. “But, at the same time, if you charge for tickets, you have got to give them a real performance.” Chase feels confident in what she calls “a committed cast” of all parties involved. Adding to an already colorful evening, PBTS displays “artichoke”-themed visual art by local artists Jim Smith, Madeleine Peck, Kathleen King, Wendy Tatter, Ingrid Damiani and Nadine Terk, in the lobby. And the premiere of “Artichoke Heart” doubles as a fundraiser for JASMYN, a nonprofit safe haven for local gay, lesbian and bisexual youths.

This type of community-based collaboration is old hat to Players by the Sea, according to PBTS director Joe Schwarz. “We are a community theater in the purest sense,” he says, describing what he believes is another positive, symbiotic and hopefully successful relationship of sharing resources among the arts, community and social causes. “The less we see each other as ‘competition’ and the more we see each other as collaborative partners, the stronger we all are.”

Dan Brow

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