“TO THE SEA” Water Is Our Core

Players by the Sea & The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens Review

As a continuation of the celebration for the Year of the River 2015 in Jacksonville, Players by the Sea and The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens presented an original one-act play by Jacksonville Playwright Kelby Siddons entitled “To The Sea” for one performance on October 21, 2015.

A bit of background on how this project came to fruition is in order. Joe Schwarz, the Executive Director of Players by the Sea, after becoming aware of the local TV show “Tonight with Jim Alabiso” and Mr. Alabisco’s love of water and swimming, arranged a discussion meeting. Players over the years has always been committed to bringing new works by local playwrights to the stage, and he suggested that they work together to produce a play incorporating Alabiso’s unique experiences and insights.

Kelby Siddons, a teacher at Episcopal High, agreed to write the script. She has penned several plays previously done on local stages. The Dual Critics especially recall reviewing “From Father to Son: An Odyssey” in November of 2012 at Episcopal, and were indeed highly impressed by her superb writing. Jason Collins was selected as Director and his long list of awards for directing plays on our local stages certainly made him an excellent choice.

Jim Alabiso is listed in the program as Storyteller/Producer and his stories provided the basis for the entire play. As is noted in the program, “Water is Jim’s core: in his heart, his art and his work.”

The play opens on a simple stage and initially appears to be the interwoven experiences of three male characters and water. Each member of the cast made a bold impression.

“The Boy” was played by Ben Ketchum, a freshman at Episcopal whom we previously saw at the school’s production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” At first, he seems concerned with typical teen issues like making friends, but his deeper concern is his connection with water as he becomes aware that a creek near his home is being polluted by chemicals from a nearby construction company. Ketchum’s personal connection to water is as a coxswain on the school’s rowing team and his passion for whitewater kayaking. Ben Ketchum gave a superb performance of enormous charm and warmth.

“The Man” was Ricky Watson, who portrayed a man in his thirties. Spending most of his time on the right side of the stage, he was a man working to solve the problem of an oil spill in Alaska. The script was written with this character providing much of the humor in the show. Mr. Watson is a Jacksonville native who made his first stage appearance at Players by the Sea in “Almost Maine.” He teaches middle school theatre and public speaking, and during 2013-14 lived in the water-conscious country of Australian. His performance was very believable and animated.

The third character was “The Swimmer,” who could have alternatively have been identified as “The Older Man,” and was portrayed by David Gile, a superb actor who has appeared in a long list of varied roles on Jacksonville stages during the past several years, and who received a Best Supporting Actor Award from Theatre Jacksonville for his role as Lt. Jonathan Kendrick in “A Few Good Men.” He is an expert in hydrology, and with his striking white hair offset by a very buff physique, was perfect for this role. He was dressed throughout in swimming attire, and was an ardent advocate for swimming and the water. His performance was involved and knowledgeable. And while he had concerns with the future of all forms of water, he clearly loved the river.

At some point we realized that all three characters represented the same person at different stage of life, which was not made clear in the program. During the talk back session after the show with much of the full house audience in attendance, we learned that we were not the only ones with this misconception.

The set by the playwright and the director consisted of a backdrop of strings of small lights, paper lanterns in blue and white suspended from the ceiling, and a few pieces of stage furniture, which included benches and a ladder. The sound of waves and other sounds associated with water added to the overall effect; Kelby Siddons was the Sound Designer. Carol Siddons handled the costumes and the prop design.

“To The Sea” was an admirable showcase for The Year of the River 2015. The three meticulously worked out performances by Director Jason Collins and Kelby Siddons made for a most interesting evening of theatre. Thanks go to Players by the Sea, The Cummer Museum, and Leap Creative for making it possible.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.