The play, written in 1971, and set during the academic year of 1965-66, was like a time machine that took the audience back to another era. The plot revolves around the lives of seven college students, who live together in an apartment near an unnamed private college in the Northeast. After a brief run on Broadway in 1972, the play has been revived occasionally, mainly in college and university settings.
In the program, Director Ken McCulough has provided a timeline of events related to military and political developments which was helpful in placing the play in context. It was a time of protests: protests against the Vietnam War and protests against unjust social policies. The full flowering of the hippie culture followed a couple of years afterward; major events enshrined in popular culture included San Francisco’s Summer of Love, and the debut of the stage musical “Hair,” in 1967.
While the playwright wrote an adaptation of the musical for the film version, “Moonchildren” is not a prequel to “Hair.” All the action takes place in the students’ inner-city apartment. The set by Johnny Pettegrew and the FSCJ crew was absolutely picture-perfect. Somewhat run down and in need of paint, we noted many fine touches that made the scene look real, like grease splatters on the wall behind the kitchen stove, finger marks on the refrigerator, and psychedelic posters on the walls. Two walls were lined with crates of glass milk bottles, which would later be collected by the milkman (Lucas Buford).
The play has a number of subplots involving this collection of colorful characters, some of whom at times appeared crude, obnoxious, and uncaring. The scenes moved along as if you were rapidly capturing life with an Instamatic.
We met Mike (Joshua Andrews), a self-confident guy who is good-looking, smart-talking, and something of a con man. His pal Cootie, who looks like a hippie, with long hair and a red head band, doesn’t present himself as overly intelligent; he and Mike provide physical comedy by clowning around together.
During the course of the play, Bob (Drew Fredricks) has a number of problems. He has received a letter related from his draft board requiring him to report for evaluation. His uncle Murry (Bodgan Pshichenko) has visited to advise him his mother is dying. And he is having relationship difficulties with his girlfriend Kathy (Serah Bennett) who has become physically attracted to Dick (Jeremy Mangal).
Ruth (Sara Girard) is intelligent, calm, and a voice of reason, who keeps the apartment organized and often advises and consoles others, including Kathy.
Dick seems obsessed with the financial aspects of living in a group setting; he has filled the freezer with hamburgers and loudly announces he will not be sharing them. Dick is reportedly having an affair with a gay professor’s wife.
The newest member of this communal group is Norman (Ruben Civilus), a math major who enjoys reading books about calculus and at first seems perhaps the smartest, but then goes to a war protest carrying a gun. He has a permit and his father is a cop, but the display of the gun isn’t well received by the marchers. Shelly (Kayla Beadle), a stoned hippie he meets at a demonstration makes him her boyfriend, and makes the apartment her home. She enjoys sitting under the kitchen table, and blowing bubbles.
The list of kooky characters is not over. Mr. Willis (Scott Hussey) is the landlord, and while not on drugs, it appears he is somewhat delusional as he lectures his tenants while collecting rent. We also met Lucille, one of the other tenants in the building. Sarah Dickinson, an FSCJ student, plays this elderly woman with multiple petty complaints and demands to perfection.
Two local cops storm into the apartment, after a neighbor complains that the occupants sometimes walk around nude. Officer Bream (Bryan Martins), who is Irish, gives them advice on how to make inexpensive curtains to cover the windows. He is assisted by a rookie, Officer Effing (Riley Shea). The final character is a father, portrayed by Jay Deen in a cameo role.
While it was sometimes difficult to follow all the action on stage, it was an interesting exploration of our cultural past. One aspect was somewhat unbelievable: while there were a couple of allusions to recreational drug use, the students did not visibly drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or grass, or ingest drugs; it appears that the playwright was more interested in focusing on the real-life challenges the students were facing than in depicting drug-related distractions.
The entire cast was excellent in their characterizations and line perfect. The costumes by the marvelous Costume Crew were right on the mark, capturing the late 60’s look with aplomb.
The drama department at FSCJ’s South campus continues to surprise theater patrons year after year, well -staged plays that are carefully selected to challenge the actors while entertaining the audience.
Next up at the Wilson Center is the annual student Summer Musical Theatre Experience which will have a large cast under the direction of local theatre professionals. This year the musical is “The Wizard of Oz,” directed by Sam Fisher with Jay Deen designing the sets and Johnny Pettegrew handing the technical duties. The cast, of course, will be 7th to 12th grade students from schools in Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Nassau and outer lying counties.