Phase Eight Theatre Company Brings Thought-Provoking Performance to MOCA Jacksonville

A Dual Critics Review

Phase Eight Theatre Company, MASS, MOCA Jacksonville

The Museum of Contemporary Art of Jacksonville (MOCA) hosted the world premier performance of Jacksonville playwright Adam Groff’s provocative MASS on December 15, 2018 at 233 North Laura Street in Downtown Jacksonville. The production will be on stage for two performances, on Sunday, December 15 at 1 pm and Friday, December 27 at 7 pm. For additional information and tickets, see their website.

The title does not refer to the formal worship service of Catholicism. Rather, it’s a reference to pandemic mass shootings throughout our county. During 1949 – 2018, Americans have experienced 40 or more mass shootings in venues that included banks, churches, schools, theatres, private homes, and public sidewalks, with the number of victims losing their life ranging from 3 (at a Jacksonville Pizza parlor) to 58 (at a Las Vegas outdoor musical festival). Mr. Groff’s play explores how the people who survived a mass killing reacted to the trauma.

The play takes place at an office Christmas party where Jason, an intruder known to those at the party, enters the room, shoots and kills 11 people, and then commits suicide. This scene is short; the focus is on those who have eluded the shots. They are left terrified, agitated, and disorganized as they try to contact law enforcement for help.

Phase Eight Theatre Company, MASS, MOCA Jacksonville

Blackout; the next scene has the five survivors seated at a large office table, waiting to be called to participate in compulsory grief counseling sessions, which are conducted in a room at the far left of the stage. As each participant is interviewed, the other four actors act out their spoken words.

Hays Jacobs as Sam interviews each character and records their comments on tape; he is often flippant, dismissive, or intrusive, and his comments are often not well-received. Mr. Jacobs has been seen in a number of Phase Eight productions, and we were impressed with his role as Roy Cohn in “Angels in America” at Players by the Sea.

The janitor Bill Williams, portrayed by Rich Pintello, is the first to meet with Sam. His duties included mopping up the blood of the deceased, and he has developed a pattern of keeping his mop and bucket with him and compulsively mopping everywhere he goes throughout the day.  Mr. Pintello has been in several Phase Eight productions, and recently appeared in “Mamma Mia” at Theatre Jacksonville.

Brie Thomas, portrayed by Miles Laura Para, is a well-educated woman with a sharp tongue who had dated Jason for a short time. But their romance was short-lived, as she preferred women. Locally, Ms. Para has had several past appearances in Theatre Jacksonville and Phase Eight productions.

Phase Eight Theatre Company, MASS, MOCA Jacksonville

Cory Simmons is making his debut with the theatre group as Craig Hardage, who has left the firm and is clearly suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. He acts strangely during his interview, wears a blindfold, and prefers lying on the floor to sitting or standing. We have seen Mr. Simmons previously in “Time Stands Still” at Theatre Jacksonville and “Sentences” at Players by the Sea.

Brooks Anne Meierdieks is Linda Hicks, a businesswoman, tough as nails, who has little patience with Sam and his interventions. Her performance as an angry grieving woman is remarkable. She excels at both comedy and drama and if we listed the many venues and plays she has appeared in, our list would fill several pages.

Phase Eight founder and director JaMario Stills is also a fine actor and takes on the role of Shaun Anderson, a complex employee who is technically skilled with computers and electronics, concerned about his safety on city streets, and unimpressed with Sam during his counseling meeting. Mr. Stills also directed this show and previously staged and directed Mr. Groff’s first production, which was “Live Girls,” in 2017.

MOCA’s auditorium has a compact stage and comfortable seating, and is a great space for intimate performances not requiring extensive sets. The museum is in a great location, close to Jacksonville’s wonderful public library and Chamblins, our favorite book store.

Thanks go to Phase Eight President Heather Moore, Founder/Director JaMario Stills and playwright Adam Groff for a timely and thought-provoking production.

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.