Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Review: DR. RIDE'S AMERICAN BEACH HOUSE is an Out of This World, Feel-Good, Euphoric Knockout at Jobsite Theater

pixeltracker

Made up of four of the strongest actresses in our area, this show is the epitome of Jobsite, and a show everyone needs to see. Emily Belvo, Susan Haldeman, Leah LoSchiavo, and Andresia Moseley are stunning.

BWW Review: DR. RIDE'S AMERICAN BEACH HOUSE is an Out of This World, Feel-Good, Euphoric Knockout at Jobsite Theater

"And as we stand upon the ledges of lives with our respective similarities, it's either sadness or euphoria."

-Summer, Highland Falls by Billy Joel; heard as the lights dim at the end of the show.

In 1983, Sally Ride, or as proclaimed in the play, "She should be called Dr. Ride," an Astrophysicist became the first and youngest American woman in Space aboard the Orbiter Challenger. Liza Birkenmeier's play is not about Sally Ride, even though her name is mentioned throughout the 85 minutes. However, under the veil of the '80s in St. Louis, Missouri we meet four women living out their lives and by a matter of opinion telling stories that boldly go where none of them have gone before so to speak. At its heart, Birkenmeier's script is compelling, enlightening, and stunning from top to bottom, a true marvel of live theatre. In her script, we get to meet characters that are not as often displayed on-stage, and that is what makes this show so endearing. Being that this show is set in the 80's smartphones, and other things like social media, don't exist yet; which renders the compelling humanity shown throughout the script. It's a breath of fresh air as we learn of these women, and how they may or may not enjoy their current way of life, and yet so different in a matter of opinions and lifestyle they are all one and the same.

At its opening, we meet Matilda played by Emily Belvo. Ms. Belvo's out-of-this-world turn as Matilda is one of her strongest performances yet. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of witnessing her turn in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, where she also was a knockout, but this is Emily at her best. Relaxed, nuanced, and completely in the moment from start to finish. She harnessed Matilda's disdain for words like "Planet" so much that it seemed like she would literally crawl out of her own skin at times. She would recollect on moments in time with songs sung completely acapella. She described a turn in high school in which she played Annie Oakley, and even wrote a poem about the experience that got her into Graduate School because the school mistook her poem's meaning for being about Vietnam. Her rendition of Moonshine Lullaby was so beautiful, it needs to be heard. I think that what makes her turn as Matilda so exquisite is not the songs, and the funny gag-worthy moments, but it's the human connection between her and Harriet. Friends since high school, there is something more there and it's so genuine and so believable right down to the heart of each conversation. There is a stunning moment near the end that you have to witness in all its glory.

Harriet played by Leah LoSchiavo is the glue that holds this story together. We learn that she and Matilda began a book club entitled "Two Serious Ladies," based on a book they claimed to have had a connection to in Graduate School. Though a book is never cracked the "book club" is used as an excuse for the women to spend more time together. Harriet begins telling a story about a one-night stand with a biker guy she met at a hospice wing while in Florida visiting her mother. Hilarity ensues when she begins to tell Matilda about her misadventures with the biker guy to the point of driving from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Ocean. In the story, it was Harriet who harnessed the power, and was one up on the biker guy, until she wasn't. Leah is fascinating to watch as Harriet, a natural-born storyteller with a comedic whip. You believe her and hang on to every word. She yearns for a better life, and when tragedy strikes it seems like it just might happen. The issue on the table is whether or not she really can let go of the life she's grown so accustomed to. Throughout the course of the play, she lends an ear to the radio for the countdown of the Challenger launch and Sally Ride's voyage into space. Her connection with Ride is about her need and want to get away from everything, but there is always something holding her back. You feel for Harriet all the way until the very end, and it's the story deeply rooted in the human experience that makes this voyage of love, loss, and human connection work on every level.

Meg is a nurse from across the street at the local hospital that Matilda's character meets, and invites to the "Book Club." Donning scrubs, and in hand a bottle of wine she joins the women on the roof. Through punches at the feminism drawn from Emily Dickinson and a true testament to the heart of love, Meg is the path of enlightenment for the women. At the reigns is Susan Haldeman. This is Susan's first time on the Jobsite stage and after tonight's performance certainly not her last. I especially liked the ode to 80's rock band with the Black Flag t-shirt and her purple locks that were as vibrant as her character's personality. Reminiscent of Lea DeLaria's Big Boo in Orange is the New Black, Meg is a little rough around the edges compared to the other ladies on the roof, but her heart shines through in every moment. I have had the supreme luxury of not only witnessing Susan's prowess on-stage in such outstanding performances as this year's LifeSpan of a Fact at Stageworks Theatre, but I have worked with her on the Artistic Side as well. Susan is as good as they come, poised, nuanced and so professional, she breathes new life into every scene she touches, and here is no exception. Her turn as Meg is perfect for her, and the connection between these three ladies is astounding and a true joy to watch.

Andresia Moseley most recently seen onstage as the grieving mother in a stunning tour-de-force of American Son at Stageworks Theatre is no stranger to the Jobsite Arena. Over the past year, she has made some epic turns and displayed some memorable performances that still stick with me to this day. Her turn as 27 different characters in last year's Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, and in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt her 10-minute scene was a show stopper. In this forum, she plays the role of Norma a repressed landlord living with her sister and concerned with how much electricity is being used, and the fact that water is dripping on the sidewalk. A stickler for all things monetary, and safety, she runs a tight ship. For me, this is the reactive character of the story, kind of in and out, but Andresia is stunning no less. Her power on-stage is unmatched and her performance as Norma is so grounded and so relatable. We all have that one neighbor, that one super, or even that one family member who feels like bamboo shoots being shoved under our fingernails, and for these women that person is Norma.

Director and local area Renaissance-Woman Roxanne Fay is Masterful in her direction here. She guides these women on a mission that is so fine-tuned and expertly executed that you sometimes forget your watching actresses portraying characters. This show feels like real-life, and we all know of, or have known these women at some point in our lives. That is what makes this show a true breath of fresh air and Roxanne has done a fine job at assembling the right actresses to portray these 4 women, for not a finer ensemble has been seen on-stage as of late. I only wish that this show had a longer run, two weeks just simply is not enough. Jobsite audiences, Tampa bay audiences, and overall people who may be on the fence about the magic of live theatre need this show. As an audience member, you would be doing yourself an extreme disservice if you were to miss out on this show, it's that damn good. Shows such as this, shows with true human connection, relationships, and Queer narrative need to be pushed to the front of the stage. This show just proclaims why we are here, and why we do what we love. This is live theatre at its finest.

From a technical standpoint bar none this show is exquisite. From Rebekah Eugenia Lazaridi's beautiful and functional set design to Jo Averill-Snell's lighting design Dr. Ride's American Beach House is a stunning marvel. Katrina Stevenson's costumes work well for each character and truly show each individual personality. The sound design with the use of the car alarms and police sirens bring the outside world inside, and the choice of music including Summer, Highland Falls by Billy Joel really creates the world in which this story resides.

You would be remiss to find yourself without a ticket to Liza Birkenmeier's Dr. Ride's American Beach House for it truly is out of this world. Jobsite continually excels at upping the ante in the form of live theatre, and this production is no exception. As I found myself in my car on the way home from the Straz Center, I found myself replaying moments from the show in my head. Moments of friends, and loved ones, and moments of that true human connection that stems from coming together as a collective and achieving magic. They say that only so often do you find yourself... "catching lightning in a bottle," and with Dr. Ride and the ladies of the "2 Serious Ladies Book Club," Jobsite Theater, Cast and Crew have done just that.

"Let's turn off our phones tonight, and rely on the stars..."

"So let's sit by the English River,

'Till the water runs dry,

Can we light a cigarette,

And talk about days gone by?

We're neither saints nor sinners,

So leave your history behind,

Let's grab a bottle and take it one day at a time."

-Sam Smith's "One Day at a Time" from the album "The Thrill of it All"

Tickets are on sale now by visiting jobsitetheater.org, and the Straz Center's Website www.strazcenter.org. Dr. Ride's American Beach House must close on October 10, so get your tickets now to experience this interstellar show. CDC Guidelines and Straz Center Protocols require masks at all times while inside the theatre, and patrons must show Proof of Vaccination and or a Negative Test along with a Photo ID for Entry.

PHOTO CREDIT: PRITCHARD PHOTOGRAPHY


Related Articles View More Tampa/St. Petersburg Stories

Buy at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

From This Author Drew Eberhard