ATLANTIC BEACH EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE REVIEW
A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The play opened Off Broadway in 2011, won an Obie Award and also was selected by Time Magazine as one of the Top 10 plays/musicals in 2012, and was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The title refers to the miles 21-year-old Leo Joseph-Connell has bicycled across the country to visit Vera Joseph, his widowed 91-year-old grandmother who lives in a modest rent-controlled apartment in New York City. His visit extends for three weeks or so, portrayed in some ten scenes in Vera’s living room, a cozy inviting space designed and decorated by Allen Morton. Scenes vary in length and changes are marked by blackouts that include NYC traffic noise and a glimpse of the city through window blinds. The blackouts allow Leo and Vera to change costumes, showing the passage of time.
This is a character-driven family drama, with discussions that center around relationships and family history. Vera has had an interesting life; she is a Marxist, and displays a photograph of Karl Marx in her living room.
Leo is a drifter, a restless spirit who enjoys the outdoors far more than city streets. He doesn’t have his future mapped out and doesn’t have an income; his mother sends him money at intervals. And it’s probable that he’s experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder due to an experience he isn’t initially comfortable discussing.
Michael Wills is believable as Leo, who is struggling to find his way in a setting filled with complexity. Mr. Wills made his ABET debut in “Macbeth” and also recently appeared in Theatre Jacksonville’s “Pride and Prejudice.” He is a Stanton Prep grad, who attended Johns Hopkins University where he appeared in their production of “Urinetown.”
Bec, Leo’s girlfriend, drops by to tell him she is breaking off the relationship. She is self-assured and a much more grounded character than Leo, and is excellently portrayed by Alexis Boucugnani, who made her community theatre debut in “Oklahoma” at St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre.
Kayla Le makes a brief dramatic appearance as Amanda, a young Chinese-American woman Leo has picked up and brought to the apartment with seduction in mind. Her conversation quickly establishes character traits; Amanda is opinionated and aggressive, and she enjoys drinking and casual sex. However, their make-out session ends abruptly when Vera returns from her errands and finds them together on the couch.
The central character is, of course, Vera and Meganne McCawley Johnson gives an extraordinary portrayal of this nonagenarian woman. Her walking and talking is measured and mannered like a woman who has diminished stamina, but remains independent. Her carefully applied makeup and vintage wardrobe help complete the picture. Vera is particularly funny when she and Leo decide to share some dope to get high and she relates stories about her ex-husband’s sexual misadventures with other women.
This production marks Rhodie Jackson’s ABET directorial debut. She has previously been involved with a number of other theatres in this area; she directed several plays at Orange Park and has appeared onstage as an actor in many plays.
While most of the scenes involve seated characters, and the script doesn’t call for a lot of action, the dialogue is compelling and holds the audience’s interest with poignant disclosures.
You don’t have to travel 4,000 miles to see this play, the trip is just a short jaunt to Atlantic Beach; the theatre is located at 718 Ocean Boulevard. Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) is an intimate theatre with less than 100 seats, and is an ideal setting for this intimate drama.
Production Team Members included: Rhodie Jackson (Director), Elizabeth Rohman (Stage Manager), Mariana Bell and Gordon Frank (Light/Sound Techs), Allen Morton (Set Design/Decoration), Bryan Frank (Light/Sound Design), Amy Tillotson (Costume Design), and Brian Johnson (Backstage Crew).