DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: World Premiere of ‘String’ at Jacksonville University College of Fine Arts

Jacksonville University’s Theatre Department presented the World Premiere of “String,” the first full length play in JU’s history written by a current JU student and produced by the theatre department.

Carlos Adorno, who is now in his third year at JU, penned this family drama and also appears on stage as Chris. In the program credits, Adorno credits Professor Brian Palmer, Dr. Tim Snyder, and Professor Erik DeCicco for their assistance in bringing this story to life.

The show is set in New York City, and most of the action occurs in the modest apartment of “Ma,” a middle-aged Hispanic woman, portrayed very realistically by freshman Nati Gonzalez in her first JU production.

As the play opens, we see Ma with Chris (Paul Evans III) and Shakespeare (Owen Betancourt), her two middle-school age sons. Aunty, Ma’s sister, soon arrives with presents for the boys; a remote control truck for Chris and a guitar for Shakespeare. The guitar is related to the play’s title, as much of the play is about Shakespeare’s efforts to become a professional musician. Aunty was portrayed by Zoë Lin Rosas, a JU senior with a number of impressive credits for appearances in JU musicals. We especially remember her as Little Becky Two-Shoes in “Urinetown.”

After a short blackout, the play moves ahead. Chris and Shakespeare are now grown men who continued to live in the same apartment with their mother. Shakespeare, portrayed by Michael Gonzalez, a JU sophomore, is a serious musician and songwriter trying to make a living with his talent. Chris, portrayed by playwright Carlos Adorno, is more business-minded. And while he has a nondescript job, he makes enough money to help his mother supplement her meager income.

`The guys have two friends who visit regularly. Ray (KJ Lindsay-Weston) is a happy-go-lucky buddy who is quite funny. Lin is portrayed by JU graduate Matthew Robertson, who has appeared in several plays in New York. Lin is a tall handsome man, but is somewhat manic and at times bounces around the stage like a rubber ball. He accompanies Shakespeare to The Fat Kat night club where he meets and becomes infatuated with Ally, portrayed by Kristen Oliver, a JU junior who recently appeared in “Mamma Mia” at Theatre Jacksonville. She falls for Lin; he is a bit goofy but is also lots of fun.

A crisis develops when Ma tells Chris she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Shakespeare becomes very upset when he discovers Ma has told Chris previously and a heated discussion of family finances follows.

And you’re probably wondering if Shakespeare really sings in this show. No, although he pretends he sings. The music we hear off stage is that of Casey Gullede, who composed the music and lyrics for the play. He is a Senior Music Theatre Major at JU.

The next to the last scene has Shakespeare with his bags packed to fly to Florida for a night club tour. When he opens an envelope expecting to find a small royalty check for a record he recently made, he finds a check for $9,000 instead. Since he has a bright financial future, he gives the check to his family to cash.

As critics, we generally do not reveal the endings of plays especially if they have a couple of weeks to run, but since ‘String’ ran only one weekend, here it is: the final scene has family and friends waiting in Ma’s apartment as Shakespeare is flying home from Florida. Suddenly, they learn from a TV announcement that the plane has crashed! Curtain!

Congratulations to Carlos Adorno for this complex play and we hope to see more in the future. It was well cast and splendidly directed by Erik DeCicco. The full house Saturday night audience appeared to really enjoy it.

The creative team included Erik DeCicco (Director), Taylor Crites (Stage Manager), Esther Olivo and Candace Dickens (Assistant Stage Managers), Brandon Lettow (Technical Director), Samantha Catone (Lighting Designer), Brian Champion (Prop Master), Candace Dickens (Sound Designer), and Erik Blomgren (House Manager).

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.