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Theater Notes: A charmer and a challenger that were worth seeing

April 18, 2018
By SIDNEY B. SIMON , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

The challenger was an exciting play put on by the students at Florida SouthWestern State College's Theater Program. Sadly, "She Kills Monsters" by Qui Nguyen only ran through April 7. I urge you to go as often as you can to FSW because the work Professor Stuart Brown does there is utterly outstanding.

The play took us back to 1995, when teenagers who were despairingly labeled nerds got deeply into "Dungeons and Dragons." Brilliantly directed by Brown, fantasy and reality exploded before our eyes and ears. The sound, the lights, the explosions, everything worked - we sat in our seats spellbound.

The cast can only be described as awesome. If there were agents in search of talent in that audience, they would have gone away with names that will someday be Equity actors on Broadway.

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Sidney B. Simon

Now, the charmer. This one was a world premiere at the Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples. "Miss Keller Has No Second Book" was by playwright Deb Hiett. The play was workshopped at this theater, and then went on to win awards around the country. One of the most prestigious was to be a semi-finalist at the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference.

The title makes us curious from the start as we meet Agnes Keller, brilliantly played by Amy Van Nostrand, a very welcome returnee to the stage. We remember her from when she played Elizabeth in "The Christians," Kate Keller in "All My Sons" and several other decisive roles.

But, she was Miss Keller, all the way through. She is a recluse that made me think of Phillip Roth and J.D. Salinger. Avoiding contact, interviews, the press, critics, her agent and anyone else - except her sister, Ramona, played by the memorable Maureen Silliman, who I cherished in "My Fair Lady." In this play, she has a mysterious and gripping place in the story. Two sisters, as different as sunshine and rain. The play took place in a small town in Iowa, present time, and raised some questions about how we use the time we're given on this Earth.

We are also confronted by the other three characters in the play. They are colorful and skillfully written by the new playwright, who knows how to keep you glued in your seats, breathtakingly, waiting to see what happens next.

Foremost is the nephew who arrives un-welcomed, Jackson Keller, 25 years old, road weary, in and out of recovery, and lost and why who comes to seek forgiveness and a place to sleep. Well played by Alex Grubbs. He's not something a recluse would welcome, of course. It get more bothersome when Jackson meets the gorgeous long-legged 19-year-old hippy neighbor, Hannah Mae Sturges, lost in the cell phone and media world of today. I can only say, I was not disappointed with this charmer.

I marvel at the production values. The set, a masterpiece. We took our seats and stared up at boxes and boxes of storage that we knew were filled with early drafts of a novel or two. It all took place in the room with two big, plush old chairs, one where Miss Keller sat with her writing pad and mounds of early drafts, maybe? One chair for the sister. But also some action out on the porch and in the yard, and the lights carved out surprisingly different worlds surrounding Miss Keller in her efforts at the second book.



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