Theatre Jacksonville’s Jr. Main Stage Players presented what has now become their annual production at the Harold K. Smith Playhouse in the San Marco section of Jacksonville.
Juan Unzueta, Theatre Jacksonville’s Educational Outreach Coordinator, and originator of the Jr. Mainstage Program, has once again cast and directed a play designed to give Jacksonville high school teenagers the opportunity to perform on the main stage of this historic Theatre Jacksonville (hence the name Jr. Main Stage Players).
This year’s production, David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Snow Angel” was performed on December 15 and 16. In previous years, Jr. Mainstage production used the set that was in place for TJ’s regular season show, making some alterations to accommodate the Jr. production. We recall their using the sets for “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Night of January 16th.”
This year, the TJ production of “Forbidden Broadway” used a minimalist set, with a piano in the middle of the stage and a large hanging sign that said “Forbidden Broadway.” For “Snow Angel,” Director Unzueta and the cast built moveable sets representing a shed and a sandwich shop in the town of Deerpoint, Vermont, the setting of the play.
The Dual Critics were particularly interested in seeing “Snow Angel, an early work of Mr. Lindsay-Abaire who has since won a Pulitzer Prize for “Rabbit Hole,” which received such a marvelous production at Theatre Jacksonville. In addition the playwright also wrote the book and lyrics for the 2009 “Shrek the Musical.”
“Snow Angel” opens in the middle of a blizzard, that has shut down the local high school but not the learning process, as the students have been told they must continue writing every day in their journals despite the weather. The fifteen students who have gathered to listen to the morning radio broadcast advising of the school’s closure complain about their unexpected assignment, but indicate they will proceed with their journaling.
Frida (Hannah McKillop) begins by writing about Eva (Annie Garner) a beautiful and charming but mysterious young woman she encounters. The ethereal Eva wears a white gown, has long flowing blonde curls and is making snow angels while on a journey to find her way home.
Frida, who is unpopular with her peers and an outcast, is pretty much ignored most of the time. When the other students find Frida’s journal, they read it out loud in a group, and somewhat surprisingly, begin to experience encounters of their own with Eva, which they incorporate into their journals.
As the play progresses we learn that all the teens have issues and problems often encountered by this age group. Problems like physical difficulties, problems with parents, with the law and with shyness, just to name a few.
The bad boy of the class, Crank ( Paxton Sanchez), claims he saw the elusive Eva, who set fire to the shed where the students met and then drowned herself. Frida disputes Cranks’ account, stating she saved Eva from drowning; an attempt to conceal the fact that Eva is a figment of her imagination. The other kids support Frida and accept her as a member of the group.
Director Unzueta did a marvelous bit of directing, moving this large group around the various areas in believable and natural motions
The students all did their own costuming which consisted of typical teenage winter wear with heavy jackets, boots, and hats and scarves designed to protect against the elements.
As critics, we recognized several of the students who had appeared in this program in previous productions. We recently saw Emily Poehlman (Betty in this show), in a fine performance at Douglas Anderson in “Eleemosynary.”
DASOTA student Emily Simmons was the stage manager and also handled the excellent sound effects of the raging storm and radio broadcasts. Juan Unzueta, in addition to directing, also sold the tickets and ran the lights.
The talented and energetic cast included: Cierra London, Daisye Tutor, Jillian Parsons, Nora Waters, Jennifer Carter, Zach Ignacio, Michael Moody Jr., Connor Driscoll, Jalen Roark, Alexander Molenaar, Michael Fisher and Patrick Badders.
The hard work these talented teenagers put forth in this production was evident and made for a very interesting and entertaining theatre experience. This play was an excellent choice, as it was not only thought provoking with lessons for all but had humor as well. The Jr. Mainstage program continues to grow, with the largest turnout for auditions in its history. We are looking forward to the next production in 2013 of Jr. Mainstage Players.