Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre Review

Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom [email protected]


This past week ABET opened the Florida premier of “Coney Island Christmas,” by noted playwright Donald Margulies. His work includes “Time Stands Still,” and “Dinner With Friends,” for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Mr. Margulies was commissioned by Gil Cates, the late owner of the Geffen Theatre, to write “Coney Island Christmas, a one-act play adapted from “The Loudest Voice,” a short story by Grace Paley. ABET’S delightful version opened on December 4, 2015 and will run through December 20. Call 229-7177 or visit abettheatre.com for additional information and tickets.

The play opens in a small bedroom in Los Angeles where grandmother Shirley Abramowitz is discussing the Christmas season with her young granddaughter. Clara (Tess Miller), who is Jewish, feels left out of the joys of the season celebrated by her non-Jewish friends. The sympathetic grandmother, an elegantly dressed woman who is the story’s narrator, is played by Jean Lijoi, whom we have not seen since 2012, when she appeared in “Olive and the Bitter Herbs” at Players by the Sea (and had one of our favorite theatre lines: “I am unlovable and I can give you references”).

Meganne Johnson, Joseph Stearman, Amy Tillotson and Kaiti Barta

The grandmother takes Clara back to a time in the past, when she was a teenager living in Brooklyn in 1935, during the height of the depression. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Abramowitz (Joseph Steadman and Amy Tillotson), own a small delicatessen and grocery. Shirley goes to a public school, and is so good at playing the turkey in the Thanksgiving play that the school’s drama teachers, Mr. Hilton (Christopher Collinsworth) and Miss Glace (Hannah Ventro) want her in the Christmas play. They need a strong actor for a major role and because she projects so well, she will be cast as Jesus.

At home, this news greatly upsets her mother and she forbids it. She is adamant that a Jewish child appearing as Jesus isn’t consistent with the traditions of the family’s faith. And, as she explains to the father, this could lead to their daughter deciding to become a nun.

Shirley does go on to play the role with the secret permission of her more liberal father. Douglas Anderson School of the Arts junior Kaiti Barta gives an inspired performance as Shirley that is both heartwarming and comic.SAMSUNG CSC

Granted, this is an absurd premise for a Christmas play. However, the underlying theme of the play is tolerance, and it has many humorous scenes.

Meganne Johnson makes two short but hilarious appearances as Mrs. Kornblum, a store customer who has nothing but complaints about the store’s goods: for example, she says the fish isn’t fresh and has too many bones.

There are eight additional young actors, who appear in the school play which was sidesplittingly funny. Each played more than one role in their farcical Christmas pageant. Carmen Burbridge was Evie, Shirley’s best friend, who is cast as the Virgin Mary. Tyler Lewis appeared in several parts, including that of Joseph. Ebenezer Scrooge, even made an appearance, and was portrayed by Kyle Conrad De’Andrea Bell. Campbell Ford’s principal role was that of Henry Brown, but we believe he also appeared as the angel Gabriel and as Santa Claus. Rounding out the cast were Kayla Bowman, Emily Collins, Melanie Arden, and Garrett Howley-Harvey.

Though the play was not billed as a musical, parts of some Christmas songs are sung during the pageant. There are also a couple of songs in Hebrew.


Megan Georgeo made an impressive debut as a Director with this show. Ms. Georgeo has an extensive theatre background. She was the Assistant Director of “Lesson in Dying” at Players by the Sea. Additionally, she has appeared as an actor in a long list of dramas and musicals including, “Quills,” “The Vibrator Play,” “The Trojan Women, ““Beehive,” and “Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson.” The set was also designed by this talented lady.

While the play is a lot of fun, its message is that Christmas and of Hanukkah celebrations differ but share roots from ancient times. We loved the energy and performances of the entire cast. We also appreciated the excellent program which featured photos of the entire cast.

ABET is located in The Adele Grage Cultural Center, at 716 Ocean Boulevard in Atlantic Beach, Florida. When you go to see the show, be sure to go into the center’s gallery to view the splendid watercolor paintings of local artist Rosanne Eqidio.

The production team included Mara Schreiber (Stage Manager & Light Board Operator), Melanie Arden (Production Manager), Megan Georgeo (Director, Set Design & Costumes), Amy Tillotson (Costume Design), Bryan Frank (Lighting Design), Gordon Frank (Lighting Crew), and Celia Frank (Managing Artistic Director & Program)

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.