The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville are avid fans of new plays and we have attended many new play festivals in states throughout the country. For a number of years we have traveled, as we will this year, to the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky.
It was with great interest that we attended the Stanton Drama Club‘s annual night of student one-act plays for the first time. This event was started 23 years ago at the request of drama club members, and has been enthusiastically received since the beginning. Some of the past plays have been published and some participants have gone on to careers in related fields like script writing for film and television.
As in the past, the students were totally responsible for all aspects of creation and production, with guidance from Jeff Grove and Shirley Sacks, both teachers in the Theatre Department. Emphasis is placed on the scripts; furnishings, props, and costumes are minimalistic.
This year’s five plays were produced by senior Cristian Mercado and junior Sophie Higdon who also acted as masters of ceremonies for the event. It was obvious they put a lot of effort into preparing, with well-rehearsed introductions that were colorful and humorous.INTROVERSY, written by Lis Barron and directed by Carrie Holton and Kristen Oliver, takes the audience into the mind of a teenage girl, who was introduced by Netta Walker, playing a character known as Thought. The facets of her personality, who vie for primary dominance, were portrayed by Monica Rosales, Jacy Reed, Isis Simmons, and Sarah Lotsey. If time had permitted, the audience would likely have enjoyed a talk-back session that invited their participation in this intellectual and thought-provoking production.
MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD, written by Alison Christovich and directed by Isabella Matrines and Jessica Momorie, portrays a young writer, played by Lizzie Tillo, who is encouraged by her older brother, played by Jeremy Kowkabany, to write original stories. She begins a story in her notebook about an adventurer (Avery Garrett) and his sidekick (Spencer Puentas). As she writes, they come to life on stage, but when she becomes dissatisfied with her work and throws torn and crumpled pages on stage, the characters, now lifeless, collapse. These actions are repeated with a young romantic couple, played by John-Thomas Giddeon and Meghan Puralefazel. Her next character, The Wanderer (Anna LaMontagne), is doing just that, wandering about, when the writer falls asleep. The Wanderer retrieves the torn pages; the other characters are reanimated, and the group takes revenge on the writer. We liked this play and feel it has potential as a children’s play.
SKETCH, written by Alison Christovich and directed by Katie Mackin and Cassidy Spencer, falls into the category of Theatre of the Absurd. It concerns a character named Sketch (Thomas Brown), a young man, who is walking about without a clear direction on stage, while voicing his concerns about finding purpose in life. Behind him are six characters identified as “Figures # 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.” Dressed in white tee shirts and black pants, with faces painted like mimes, they are mute as they walk in random circles at the back of the stage around a tall white box. Enter Ruby (Jill Responte), a young lady with a radiant smile, who wears a bright red fringed dress. Her face is painted like a mask, with bright colors added to a white base. She apparently has found at least some of her own purpose and acts as an advisor to Sketch. This is another play where the audience might have enjoyed the opportunity to participate in a talk-back session. The silent figures were played by Nick Pettross, Dani Goldberg, Caroline McMullen, Antonio Salinas, Jessica Cuttin, and Taylor Ogle.
THE SECOND TEMPLE, written by Matt Ubl and directed by Drew Frericks and Samantha Watkins, was the first of two plays that were more contemporary in subject matter. As it opens, Charlie (Nick Kirby), a store manager who is struggling to keep his business open, is on the phone at an order desk, when a young man responding to a help-wanted sign enters. Jerry (Trey Lewis) had worked at the store in the past; his father and Charlie were business partners. Unfortunately, Jerry was convicted of armed robbery after he and his buddies wrecked the store during an after-hours visit; the outcome was a lengthy jail sentence. Now he wants to work with Charlie to make amends for his past mistakes, but Charlie is skeptical about his motives and capabilities. Jerry explains that after he was released from jail, he found a job at a nearby store and worked his way up to manager; the store became very profitable. He urges Charlie to let him take over the business, so Charlie will be free to move on to a more fulfilling future. Here the play gets a little weird, as Jerry goes into his father’s office and comes out with an urn; his father apparently has died, and been cremated. The ending of this play was not totally clear but it appears Jerry is back to stay. While both actors handled their roles well, the play could have been more believable if the character Jerry had appeared in clothing that supported his claim of having been a successful manager, such as a dress shirt and tie, rather than very casual attire.
NARRATE, written by Charlie Vancini and directed by Yodit Gebretsadik and Jenna Levine, was a good choice to close out the evening since it was definitely the favorite of the Saturday night full-house audience. It was funny and included references to Jacksonville (the Jaguars) and Stanton. In a spoof of film-noir, a detective, played by Michael Dean, is interrogating a possible crook played by Riley Bean. The suspect reportedly stole some jewels from the Cummer Museum but won’t admit it. The detective’s family arrives and disrupts the proceedings, but gives the crook ample ammunition for responding with a number of clever and cutting remarks. The daughter Amy (Mackenzie Brown) and the preteen son Lucas (Zach Rhodes) add to the mayhem and comedy. The final character, and, judging from the audience reaction, the funniest, is Jake (Patrick Whitford), a stoned pizza delivery man. The son finds the jewels in the crook’s pocket as the play ends.
Stanton is a college prep school with a national reputation for scholarship, and we don’t know how many, if any, of the students will choose theatre majors in college. Overall, both the acting and the direction were handled well, and we are seeing potential here. We will definitely plan to return next year. If we were passing out an award for best performance, we would give it to Jill Responte for Ruby in “Sketch.”
Congratulations to Stanton’s Thespian Troupe #3929, who raised over seven hundred dollars for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids during the three-performance run of the production
If you want to see Stanton students in action on stage, you will have the opportunity next month when they present their annual musical. They will produce SHREK on stage at Theatre Jacksonville at the end of March; Nick Kirby, who played Charlie in “The Second Temple,” will appear in the role of Shrek. We advise buying tickets early, as we expect high demand.