Best Little Laugh House: “LIVE GIRLS” at Phase Eight, Jacksonville’s Newest Theatre Company

A PHASE EIGHT THEATRE COMPANY REVIEW

Phase Eight, Jacksonville’s newest theatre company, launched its inaugural season in January, 2017, and presented “Live Girls” as an end of summer show during August 10 – 13 at a studio in the WJCT Broadcasting facility in downtown Jacksonville. We were among those in the full house first night audience for the exclusive world premier of the work of playwright Adam Goff. He is a graduate of Florida State University, with an MFA in Playwriting and Screenwriting, and now makes his home in Jacksonville.

The production of “Live Girls” is set in a brothel in an unnamed southern city, and the cast had southern accents. The place lacks class, unlike the interiors you may have seen for “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” the most famous brothel in theatrical history. Here, the main room served as a living room, and had an unmatched couch and chair. Two stage-left tables topped with some bottles of booze and glasses were used as a makeshift bar. An elevated walkway at the back of the stage led to unseen rooms used by the ladies and their customers.

The establishment’s madam is Seedy, who is portrayed by Fernandina actress Sinda Lee Nichols. She is well known to local theatre fans for her many appearances in outstanding roles in plays which have included “August, Osage County,” ”Night of the Iguana,” “33 Variations,” and “On the Verge.” Additionally, she has appeared as Emily Dickinson in “The Belle of Amherst,” her signature one-woman show, throughout the USA and Ireland. She is marvelous as Seedy, acting as a mother hen to her employees, while surrounding herself with a hurricane of verbiage that encompasses honesty, brutality, and deceit.

On this particular evening, the girls waiting for customers to arrive realize Peppermint is missing. She is found dead in her room; she has been murdered. Seedy decides to wait until the end of the work night before notifying authorities.

The working girls all have distinctive personalities. Miles Lara Para is Heart Breaker, and probably has fewer hang-ups and baggage than her fellow workers. She is the one others turn to when needing sympathy.

Playing May is Amber Brown, who is also pregnant. She wears a black and white tee shirt with lettering that says “Jesus Tough Built to Last.” She is appealingly convincing as a young woman who is about to deliver.

Actress Amy Lone is Pegasus or Peggy, a complex character. She arrives for work dressed in a tuxedo and announces she married Peppermint the previous night. She also has a steady boy friend and is pregnant.

The last of the crew is Hays Jacob as Sylvester, who is better known as Sy or Sylvia. He often wears a dress and a lady’s red wig, often writes and recites poetry, and is the funniest character in the show.

Actor Rich Pintello portrays Lefty “Left Hook” Larson, who comes on the scene announcing that men attending the boxing matches will be along later. He is an amateur boxer who says he has fought thirty-three bouts, lost the last one, and has a black eye prove it. He is Peggy’s boy friend and the father of her unborn child.

The final character who appears at the beginning of the second act is McCready (Tim Driscoll), a preacher who interacts only with Seedy; they play black jack while he drinks liquor. He leaves abruptly because he “has to round up some sinners.”

As rough as the life of the characters sounds, the script has quite a bit of humor. One of the most humorous moments occurs when May wants a drink but is told drinking is bad, and would result in the baby being born with eleven toes and a bar tab. Additionally, the story includes a number of twists, turns, and secrets, interwoven with the relationships of the characters. We’re not including spoilers, since you may have the opportunity to see the show at some point in the future.

The cast’s performances are to be admired in a multitude of ways for their unflagging intensity and excellent characterization. All of the cast except for Mr. Driscoll were in Phase Eight’s previous wonderful production of “Hot L Baltimore.”

Mr. JaMario Stills directed with his usual blend of theatrical flair and satisfying allegiance to the author’s wishes. His tightly paced staging made this a high octane production that moved swiftly and surely. Add in the excellent costuming by Heather Moore, lighting design by Demetrius Ballard, and makeup by Angel Lewis and it was a compelling evening of theatre.

Hot off the Press: Mr. Stills will continue to be the Artistic Director of Phase Eight, and is in addition joining Jacksonville University this fall as a Drama Instructor.

Coming up during September 21 – 24 is “Jesus Hopped the A Train.” For additional information, see phaseeight.org and the Facebook page for Phase Eight Theater Company.

– A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

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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