by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Theatre Jacksonville presented another installment of the Guerilla Show Series (Theatre with a Bite!) on Jan 18, 19, 20 with an International Theatre Festival, a first for Jacksonville. If you are not familiar with the Guerilla Series, it features weekend shows that are scheduled twice a year outside the theatre’s regular season. The format allows TJ to present new or cutting edge works, and has been very successful and well received.
The International Theatre Festival was outstanding, well attended, and a definite coup for Theatre Jacksonville, which is now in its 93rd season.
The opening play, which had three performances, was “On a First Name Basis,” written by Canadian playwright Norm Foster who also played the leading role of David Kilbride. Kilbride is a wealthy, successful novelist, who discovers he knows nothing about the full-time maid and housekeeper who has worked for him for 28 years. Patricia Vanstone, also a Canadian actor, is Lucy Hopperstaad, an attractive 54-year-old who has never married. Kilbride on this evening is interested in learning everything he can. He starts by asking her to tell him her first name. What follows is a delightful two hours of sparkling conversation that is revealing and heartwarming. It is extremely well-written and was superbly acted. The set, generously furnished by Cort Furniture, was simple with two overstuffed chairs and solid wooden furniture. This was the North American premier; the play opened in Bermuda to rave reviews. The Dual Critics do not know when it will be published and the rights made available, but this would be a marvelous piece for a group with a small theatre space. It could easily displace A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” as a favored choice. Foster is Canada’s most produced playwright, and we are hoping to see more of his work on our stages.
The second offering in this Festival was done for one performance only on Saturday afternoon and was offered without charge to the public. “Tsunami Tales” was a reading of letters, e-mails and broadcasts of people involved in the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. The source materials were compiled by TV and movie actress Linda Purl. With color slides displayed on the back wall, four local actors under the direction of Jean Tait brought this tragedy to life with eyewitness accounts. The hour long presentation ended on a positive note with the Japanese showing remarkable resilience. The actors were superb in creating the characters. Kudos to Sara K. Bartlo, Co’Relous Bryant, Jason Collins and Sommer Farhat. Donations to the American Red Cross were encouraged and accepted at the performance.
The final selection offered for two performances was “The Bad Arm – Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer” performed by Máire Clerkin, who also wrote the script based on her life as an Irish dancer growing up in England. Ms.Clerkin did quite a bit of Irish dancing and was indeed quite agile. As the story unfolded, it was obvious this entire 60 minute show was going to be wall to wall laughs as she described and acted out the events of her zany life. She said as much if not more with her broad gestures and body language and facial expressions as she did with her feet. A funny funny show, it has been performed across the nation, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The performance was directed by Don O’Conner. Ms. Clerkin was assisted by technical manager Mitchell Roche who provided the recorded music, sound effects, and the many pictures projected on the rear wall.
The festival was coordinated by Michelle Simkulet as Festival Manager. Sarah Boone, Executive Director of Theatre Jacksonville was the Festival Producer. Ms. Boone was responsible for bringing these marvelous productions here, using her connections as a Consulting Producer with the California International Theatre Festival, a post she has held since 2008.
Thank you Theater Jacksonville for a fantastic and unique weekend of theatre and we know we echo the praise of all who attended.
THEATRE JACKSONVILLE'S INTERNATIONAL THEATRE FESTIVAL
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM