DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]

First Coast Actors Center, a new intensive training center for actors in the North Florida area, presented two interesting one-act plays on December 19, 2015, at their home in The Performers Academy on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida.

The first play was “Recklessness“, written by Eugene O’Neill in 1913; it was his first play. O’Neill went on to become one of the world’s most famous playwrights and his “Long Day’s Journey into Night” is considered one of the greatest American plays in theatre history.

“Recklessness” was directed by JaMario Stills, who also played one of the roles. Mr. Stills is a Co-Founder and Associate Director of First Coast Actors Center. He graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, received a Bachelor of Fine Arts at The Juilliard School, and worked as an actor in New York. Locally, he directed “The Mousetrap” at Theatre Jacksonville and will be directing “Mothers and Sons,” which will be on stage in February, 2016 at Players by the Sea.

The story takes place in the living room of wealthy businessman Arthur Baldwin (Rich Pintello). It opens with his attractive wife Mildred (Laura Meier) in a romantic clinch with their chauffeur Fred (JaMario Stills). As she discusses her hopes for a future together, we learn that she is looking forward to leaving her husband, whom she never loved. Fred is more cautious; he is unwilling to experience poverty and other likely unpleasant consequences.

Unknown to Mildred is that Fred is also having an affair with Jean (Amy Leone), one of her maids. Jean, aware of Fred’s wandering affections, relays the sordid details of both affairs to Arthur. Angered, Arthur sends Fred to town on an invented urgent trip, in an automobile that he knows has steering problems. Fred has an accident while speeding and dies. While Arthur does not immediately tell his wife that Fred has died, he intimates he knows about her affair and she says she wants to leave him. After the body of the now deceased Fred is dragged into the parlor by a sexton (Austin Griffin), Mildred goes to her room and commits suicide. The play was intriguing, with the characters well-portrayed.

Fourteen,” the second play, was written in 1914 by Alice Gerstenberg. It was directed by Samuel Fisher, a Co-Founder of First Coast Actors as well as an Associate Director. Mr. Fisher has directed a number of diverse plays and musicals at various venues in Jacksonville. The impressive list includes “The Wizard of Oz,” “Angels in America,” “Amadeus,” “Reefer Madness,” and “Next to Normal.” In introducing the play, Mr. Fisher indicated that the play was a predecessor to the future theatre of the absurd.

The play is set in England, in the dining room of Mrs. Pringle (Claudia Laster), who is hosting a formal dinner for fourteen, with the purpose of introducing her charming (but vain) young daughter Elaine (Miles Para) to eligible bachelors. After the long table is set by Dunham (Jay Bilderback), her servant, she immediately encounters problems in the form of phone calls from guests calling to make excuses for not attending; the excuses include bad weather and illness. Mrs. Pringle is involved in an endless stream of adjustments and increasing agitation as the guest list fluctuates. All three characters are funny as they react to the events. Ms. Laster is the centerpiece of this play and uses a wonderful English accent.

The evocative LED lighting was by Richard Borders of Gemini Light Show. Also of note, while no one was credited for the costumes, they were colorful and appropriate for the timeframe of the plays.

We enjoyed our introduction to the theatre world of the center. We especially appreciated the history lesson the two plays provided in works that apparently are rarely performed today. We are sure that Mr. Stills and Mr. Fisher have more surprises for theatergoers in the future. Joining these two talented educators is Amber Daniels, a Jacksonville University graduate, whose expertise is dance and movement.

The First Coast Actors Center is located at 3674 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. For additional information, call 904- 322-7672, or visit their Facebook page.



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.