“Stalking Ottis Toole: A Southern Gothic”

FLORIDA STATE COLLEGE OF JACKSONVILLE THEATRE REVIEW

A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM

The FSCJ Fine Arts Department presented the world premier of “Stalking Ottis Toole: A Southern Gothic” on April 6, 2017, for a run through April 9 in the Studio Theatre at the Nathan Wilson Center of the Arts on FSCJ’s south campus. The play was written by FSCJ English professor Tim Gilmore, and is based on his book of the same name, which was published in 2013. Gilmore is the author of 14 books, most with a Southern setting.

For most theatre goers in the full-house audience on opening night, Ottis Toole would have been an unfamiliar name. Playwright Gilmore described him in the program notes as “more fascinating than your run-o’-the-mill serial killer.” He was born in Jacksonville in 1947, confessed to an initial murder committed when he was fourteen, and afterward engaged in a prolonged killing spree ending in 1982, when he was incarcerated.

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While most of the play is set in the historic area of Jacksonville’s Springfield neighborhood, Toole’s journeys elsewhere were also enacted; he traveled throughout Florida and to distant locations in other states. The set portrayed a fantastically deteriorated Springfield home, and was created by Director Ken McCulough, Technical Director Johnny Pettegrew, Scene Shop Supervisor Robert Rupp, and students in the Drama Practicum and Technical Lab class.

Toole reportedly had an IQ of around 75 and apparently exhibited different personalities at various times. Playwright Gilmore has three actors who embody Toole, with Cameron Skaff as The Mama’s Boy, Preston Pittman as The Killer, and Cross Blocker as The Subservient Lover. Toole’s real-life lover and partner in many of the crimes was Henry Lee Lucas, played by Noah Bennett. The performances by the four actors were bone-chilling.

While Lucas was convicted of three murders and Toole was convicted of six, the actual number of murders the two committed is unknown, as both confessed to killings in which their involvement could not be confirmed based on the evidence available to investigators.

Another principal role and one well played featured Aimee Masci as a magazine journalist who conducted frequent interviews with each of the Toole characters.

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A moving performance featured Tyler Hammond as John Walsh, the father of six-year-old Adam Walsh who was abducted from a Sears’s department store in South Florida and murdered in 1981. Afterward, John Walsh became an advocate for missing and exploited children, and was the founder and host of “America’s Most Wanted,” a long-running TV show which focused on capturing known criminal fugitives.

In one of the final scenes of the play, two policeman, portrayed by Meenan Williams and Carl Stokes, question a grown Adam Walsh (Zachary McKinney), trying to get him to identify his killer. A question exists as to whether Toole actually was the murderer: he initially said he was but then recanted his statements. Police investigators announced in 2008 that the case was closed, with Toole identified as the murderer.

Also included in this fine cast were Elizabeth Gerhardt (Drusilla), Amber Robbins (Sondra), Mary Shubert (Mama), Allie Christensen (Novella), Savannah Raney (Betty) , Trevor Schmidt (Glen’s brother), Talise Zide (Becky), Julie Nolaso (Regina, the narrator) Krysta Odcampo (Regina, the character) and Kyland Fowler (David).

Additional members of the Production Team included: The Costume Crew (Costume Designers), Kyle Smith (Sound Design/Engineer), Simone Hawkins (Stage Manager), Claire Fiegl (Assistant Stage Manager), Bill Boothman (Master Electrician), and Desta Horiner (Properties Supervisor).

The play was a one-act of ninety-five minutes, with frequent short blackouts used to move the story along to different locations and events. The program included a warning that the play is not suitable for audiences under 18 years of age. While well written, we don’t anticipate it will become a favorite of community stages, as it touches upon subjects which include arson, cannibalism, child molestation, necrophilia, and random murder. However, we found it a well-executed and thought-provoking evening of theatre.

 

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.
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