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Jericho
Florida Studio Theatre

Jericho
Eleanor Handley and Mark Light-Orr
Exciting doings at Florida Studio Theatre as they participate in a rolling world premiere of Jericho by Jack Canfora, chosen by the National Play Network from many scripts submitted. This is the third production—behind New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch, New Jersey, and Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis, Indiana. There are three more scheduled productions this year, then the playwright waits to see what attention it attracts from other regional theaters across the country.

Jericho begins with an interesting premise, that 9/11 created an entire class of people who were severely effected by the event; either they were directly involved or involved through someone close to them. He posits the idea that many people in the New York City area are walking cases of PTSD which then strongly affects the people in their orbit. The two lead characters, Josh (he survived 9/11 from inside one of the towers) and Beth (she lost her husband that day), are complete opposites. He has retreated deeply into his Judaism, she comes from Irish and Palestinian parents. She is holding on by a thread and knows it, he thinks he is coping quite well. The play also pulls in Josh's younger brother (who is dating Beth), his wife and mother. All of Josh's relationships are strained because of his retreat from his former center. Beth isn't having any real interaction with anyone except her psychiatrist.

The best parts of the play are the confrontation between Josh and Beth and the pivotal scene where everyone comes together for a strained Thanksgiving dinner. In these two sections, Mr. Canfora seems willing to take the risk of deep, raw emotionalism. In most of the rest of the play he is content to write with the emotional depth of situation comedy. I found this an uneasy mix—it was almost as if there were two competing plays before me. Still, what he lays out for the audience is going to stimulate important discussion, as witness several talkbacks held in conjunction with this production.

Florida Studio Theatre has fielded an interesting cast, the acting a bit variable. Michael Satow is giving one of the strongest performances as Ethan, the younger brother, capturing the randy side of the character who drifts from woman to woman and bed to bed while still remaining likable. Mark Light-Orr as Josh is successful in portraying the fraying relationships with those around him, and the easy camaraderie with his brother. He is not quite as good in fleshing out the fear that is pushing him toward a move to Israel, possibly without his wife of many years. Rachel Moulton as the wife Jessica shows us the stress of the character as her anchor no longer moors her, but the overall performance is a bit shrill to be as likable as I would wish. Will Little, so remarkable a few months ago as Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, is the victim of some less successful writing. He is required to play the ghost of Beth's former husband (race not clear to me) and a Chinese/lesbian Psychiatrist. I found the combining of these two characters ineffective. Eleanor Handley in the dominant role of Beth is unsympathetic. I cannot be sure if this is a fault of the writing or the character is barely holding the pieces of her life together, and possibly that fragility is what I am reacting to. This, coupled with the conceit of having Beth break the fourth wall and directly speak to the audience several times during the play, kept me from connecting with the character. It requires a strong bond with the audience to shred the artifice of direct communication.

Director Kate Alexander keeps the play moving forward, in spite of several scene changes that required down time. The characters move well in relation to each other and the dramatic situations are well laid out. The simple sets by Bob Phillips are effective in delineating the settings. Also very effective is a projection on a rear scrim that changes with the dramatic situations and helps to bring them to life. Costume design by Sara J. Hinkley and Lighting Design by Bryan Winn are assets to the production.

Florida Studio should be commended for bringing this untested play to Sarasota. Audiences should find it provocative if imperfect.

Florida Studio Theatre presents Jericho through June 9, 2012, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org

Cast (In order of Appearance)
Eleanor Handley as Beth
Will Little as Dr. Kim/Alec
Michael Satow as Ethan
Rachel Moulton as Jessica
Mark Light-Orr as Josh
Diane Ciesta as Rachel

Directed by Kate Alexander
Scenic Design by Bob Phillips
Costume Design by Sara J. Hinkley
Lighting Design by Bryon Winn
Production Stage Manager: Kelli Karen


Photo: Maria Lyle Photo


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