PHASE EIGHT THEATRE COMPANY REVIEW
A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The new Phase Eight Theatre Company presented a world premiere of “MLK BLVD” in a readers theatre production during May 25-27, 2017. This dynamic ensemble theatrical company, which launched its inaugural season in January and does not have a permanent home as of this review, seeks out interesting venues for its shows. “MLK” was staged at the Jessie Ball Center at 30 E. Adams Street, which many readers will remember was the Haydon Burns Library for many years prior to being replaced by the new library across from Hemming Park.
This play was written and directed by Juilliard student Julian Robertson, who is no stranger to the Jacksonville theatre scene. He is a graduate of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and appeared as an actor in their productions of “Ragtime” and “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” He received a full scholarship to the Julliard School of Drama and has completed his first year. Last year we reviewed his play “Broke” which was staged at the Performance Academy and gave it a rave review.
The play, which takes place in an unnamed city in an African-American neighborhood, opens with a scene between Money and Crum, two young men who are playing three-card Monte in a park. Money (Jalen Coleman), who consistently chooses the wrong card, is young, seventeen or so, bright, but somewhat naïve. He is a recent high-school dropout, without a regular job. His father up and left home several years ago and while his whereabouts is unknown, Money has reason to believe he will be returning in the near future.
Chum (Mike Braugher), who is a couple of years older, is Money’s best friend and more. They were friends while growing up, and after the defection of Money’s father, Chum appointed himself as Money’s advisor, guardian, and teacher. A highlight of the play is the dialogue between the two as they discuss life and its problems.
Charity (Melissa Colliday), who is the same age as Crum and a friend of both, is trying to persuade Money to move to another neighborhood and live with his grandmother, but he refuses to do so. Charity is not supportive of Money’s hopes for reunion with his father, stating he was a thief before he left the area.
The final character is Edgar (Nate Mann), a student at a private school just on the edge of the hood. After being roughed up and robbed by a couple of thugs, he and Money develop an unlikely friendship. Edgar recognizes Money’s potential, urges him to return to school to improve his future prospects, and opens new vistas with a trip together to the library.
Chum does not approve of Money’s new ambitions or his new white friend. Chum in fact has a utopian vision: he wants to make the hood an area for blacks only, off-limits to white folks. As critics we don’t give away the ending of plays, but will note that in the second act, we learn Chum is quitting his low-wage restaurant job to become a drug dealer.
The actors are all Julliard students who have used part of their summer break to come to Jacksonville and appear in Robertson’s play. All four performances were superb and we are looking forward to seeing them in future productions here and elsewhere.
Julian Robertson shows remarkable command of language in his writing, especially considering he is only nineteen years old. He is also versatile; “MLK” is much different than “Broke,” his last show, which was filled with comedy. He has tremendous potential; his work reminds us of that of August Wilson.
As we indicated “MLK” is a work in progress. The first act is too long and some of the discussion between the characters is repetitive. The ages and relationships of the characters need to be made clearer.
JaMario Stills, a DASOTA and Julliard graduate, is the founder and artistic director of Phase Eight Theatre Company and has a mission of fostering great actors through contemporary works and performances.
Up next on their schedule is “Live Girls,” a world premiere by playwright Adam Groff (August 10-13), “Jesus Hopped the A Train,” by Stephen Adly Guirigis (September 21-24), and William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (December 7-10). For more information, see their Facebook page @PhaseEightTheatreCompany.