Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) presented a special staged reading of the thought-provoking “The Waverly Gallery” during August 12 – 14, 2016. The production wasn’t part of ABET’s regular season, but was a welcomed addition to our local theatre offerings.

ABET’s staging was the Florida premier of the drama, by Kenneth Lonergan, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001. The playwright’s inspiration was based on memories of his grandmother’s struggles with illness in her later years. The play is set in New York City, in Greenwich Village and on the Upper West Side of Manhattan during 1989 – 1991.

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The story is that of octogenarian Gladys Green, who has run a very small and not notably successful art gallery in Greenwich Village for the past twenty-eight years. She is widowed and lives alone, but is visited daily by her grandson Daniel, who lives in the same building in a separate apartment. Her daughter Ellen and her son-in-law Howard are also frequent visitors. In Act One, Don, an aspiring artist convinces Gladys to hang his work in the gallery; when he tells her he’s been sleeping in his truck, she readily offers to allow him to live in a small room at the gallery.

In the first act, which had most humor in this play, we see that Gladys, while spending most of her time chatting with gallery visitors , is having problems with memory and communication. She has a hearing aid, but it’s not particularly helpful, and she is frequently forgetful.

As one might expect, her condition worsens in the second act. She has Alzheimer’s disease and is fading away; she does not realize that her world is falling apart. Daniel, who spends the most time with Gladys, is frustrated during conversations with her, as she rambles on with random irrelevant comments which are painful indications of her advancing mental decline. Ellen has hired both a cook and a home-health aide to help her mother, who considers them strangers and doesn’t want them in her home. And the owner of the building where the gallery is located wants to evict her.

waverly gallery 001“The Waverly Gallery” was directed by Jack Barnard, who has been associated with ABET since its beginnings twenty-five years ago, both as a director and on-stage; he is one of the finest character actors in this area.

Brandon Frank is outstanding as the grandson Daniel. If the name sounds familiar it is because he is the son of ABET’s Managing Artistic Director Celia Frank and Technical Director Bryan Frank. Brandon first appeared on this stage at age twelve. He is here just for the summer; he now lives in New York and attends Fordham University, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in Clinical Psychology.

Jordan Schemmel played the surprisingly likeable artist Don. Since his theatre debut in Jacksonville at ABET in “Fortune’s Fool,” he has been involved in a number of shows at our local theatres as an actor and backstage. Recent roles have included Brian in “Hotbed Hotel” and Lendal in “Almost Maine” at Orange Park Community Theatre.

Karen Garrett was picture perfect as Ellen, a dutiful daughter dreading the inevitable, when she and her husband will have to become caretakers for her mother in their home. She has an impressive list of leading roles at ABET, and it was a treat to see her on stage again. She was last seen there in the”The Sugar Bean Sisters.”

Leonard Alterman as Karen’s husband Howard was sharp-tongued, headstrong, and very funny, providing a lot of the humor in the first act. If you went to any theatre in North Florida in the past few years, you were bound to have seen Mr. Alderman. Musicals, comedy, drama: he does it all and does it well. He appeared most recently as Potiphar in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Northeast Florida Conservatory.

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Carson Merry Baillie has been involved in North Florida Theatre for many years. Theatre has always been her first love: she is a retired public school teacher. She was the principal founder of ABET when she was in her sixties, twenty-five years ago. Carson loved Chekov and Turgenev and brought many of their works to ABET’s stage; of note, the cast frequently included Mr. Barnard, Ms. Garrett, and Mr. Alderman in leading roles.

Exceptional actors always meet and then exceed the demands of their roles, and Carson Merry Baillie excels as Gladys, in a role that brings measured laughter, tempered with the knowledge of the tragedy outcome that awaits.

There are enough Carson Merry stories to fill several books. The male half of Dual Critics remembers one: When Carson was doing a lot of directing and had difficulty finding someone for a small role, she recruited cast members while shopping. If she saw someone who looked the part, she would offer it to them. And she never had reason to worry: she knew she could she could teach them to act!

ABET’s Production Team for “The Waverly Galley” included Jack Barnard (Director), Debra Harvey (Stage Manager), Betsy Totten Darnell (Light/ Sound Tech), and Bryan Frank (Light & Sound Design).

Coming up next at ABET is Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” the season’s opener. The musical, directed by Lee Hamby, will be on stage during September 3 – 15, 2016 and features a cast of eighteen. For additional information and reservations, call 904-249-7177 or visit

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.